Distractions Are Killing Your Creativity

Here’s the facts:  A University of California, Irvine study revealed that employees working in open-plan offices (cubicles or around big tables) were interrupted 63% of their time at work. (63%!)  Employees with offices were interrupted 49% of the time. After each interruption, it took 25 minutes for the cubicle employees and 26 minutes for the office employees to get back on track. However, typically, employees turned to 2.26 OTHER tasks before getting back to the original task from which they had been interrupted. Which means, if each interruption costs you that much time to get back to the original task, it doesn’t take many to eat up your entire working day.  Stop and just think about that a moment.

Another study indicates that technology isn’t always the villain. The Wall Street Journal reports that face-to-face interruptions account for a third more intrusions than email, voice mail, or phone calls.  The reason is that while we can control our phone and email interruptions, it’s much more difficult – especially when it’s a supervisor – to ignore face-to-face interruptions, because employees don’t want to appear rude.

But more than simply numbers, research done by Bing Lin, at Portland State University indicates that constant interruptions and distractions cause increased exhaustion, physical strain, and anxiety.

The bottom line? In my book, “Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing,” I write that in a digital world, distractions and interruptions are here to stay. If you’re not intentional about finding focus, and shaping your work environment to help you minimize these interruptions, your work will suffer, and according to research by Bing Lin at Portland State, your life will suffer as well.

In my opinion, I think this is particularly true of creative work.  When it comes to imagination, a deep dive is required.  Sure you can have spur of the moment “eureka!” ideas, but for breakthrough creative work, sustained focus is the key.  So start being intentional about protecting your creative time from the distractions that surround us everyday.

Think about it: What are the distractions you face daily at the office, and how can you adjust your work environment to find better focus?

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  1. I’ve worked in two open plan offices and all the rest individual. One of them was a TV Newsroom (made the ‘Newsroom’ series by Aaron Sorkin look quiet and peaceful). I loved it and you learnt to focus and shut out. I cannot imagine a newsroom anything other than open plan. Their gallery (you call them control rooms I think) was also quieter than our production gallery. But that may well be artistic license as a TV audience wouldn’t cope with the true chaos of a TV Newsroom.

    The other time was when I worked in the USA for a short time as a software designer. Not a good fit for me. I loved the open plan for that too because it allowed interaction and because the job was not really a good match, as an extrovert it helped me cope. When we moved after three months to individual rooms for that job all the introverts sighed with relief, the two of us who were extroverts nearly died. We had to escape for bagels and lox many times per week for some real life.

    But, for creative work — writing scripts, film editing, designing etc — a separate office is essential, otherwise I get no work done at all.

    There was something I learnt in the USA that people are programmed for interruption. If I had a meeting in my office and the phone rang I would leave it and after 4-5 rings it went to my voicemail. The meeting had my attention. My American colleagues couldn’t cope and when they realised I didn’t answer the phone in meetings they would pick up my phone and answer it for me! Even when I explained, they just couldn’t help themselves. The interruption took precedence over the face to face meeting. All of my colleagues did it. I found it a very weird cultural attribute.

    1. Really good insight Richard. I’m pretty much the same way. I love to interact, but when it comes to serious writing, I need absolute privacy… (and silence).

  2. Great points. However, it’s not just the external distractions that rob us of our creativity. The internal distractions do as well. We need to master the lost art of focus — to set our minds like flint and not let our attention be drawn away by off topic thoughts ricocheting through our head.

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