My friend Kate Schutt has been writing some great articles recently about creativity, self-expression and time management. (I particularly love this one about using a timer as a tool for productivity…)
Her latest piece, about researcher and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi really got me thinking. Rather than discuss his fascinating discoveries about creativity, Kate decided to focus on the various creative giants that refused to participate in his studies… those who said no rather than yes… and the very positive things we can learn from them. (You can read some of their classic responses here).
Essentially, these men and women refused because they know well the perils of distraction when it comes to getting things done. Even distractions of great importance; while they valued the contributions their sharing might have made, they chose instead to safeguard their time and stay focused on their own work.
Limiting distractions has always been a much touted tactic for staying on task. Yet today, doing so is harder than ever. With email, the internet, and cell phones, the spaces between us have evaporated, leaving us not only feeling closer and more connected to one another, but as well, more entitled to ask our friends– Facebook and otherwise– as well as total strangers for their time (as well as obliged to give it).
In terms of safeguarding blocks of time for creativity and productivity, there are few villains as dangerous as technology. Yet many people remain largely unaware of its wiles. Today’s digital norms are like water to the fish or the air to the bird; we’re too immersed in our techno culture to realize just how powerful– and often ineffective– it can be.
Let’s take a step back and put things into perspective. Imagine your inbox and voicemail for what they really are: lines of people demanding your attention from the second you wake up in the morning until you go to bed, with more showing up at all hours of the day and night. If they were at our front door, we’d call the police!
How odd then, to feel that we have to answer– and often, immediately!– each person’s beck and call. Yet that’s precisely what so many of us do. Not only do we tackle our inboxes as an imperative part of our to-do lists, they often trump everything else on them… including those projects, tasks and even relationships that are near and dear to our hearts.
Establishing strategies for how to best handle your e- and other interactions is important if you want to get anything accomplished. That said, an across the board ‘no’ isn’t necessarily the best approach. For example, I’m a big believer in opening my 'front door' on a regular basis. While it obviously takes time to have those conversations– and therefore, time away from projects I’m passionate about– I gain so much from them. Readers have become clients, clients have become friends, and emails have inspired articles (like this one) as well as chapters in books.
Over the years I have grown tremendously from this listening and sharing both personally and professionally, to say nothing of the positive energy– and creativity– that is generated from having a yes rather than a no mentality.
New tools require learning new ways to optimally interact with them… preferably ones that we proactively create, rather than default to. For some, this means unplugging from technology and others when a project is on the table; for others, these ‘distractions’ help to inspire those very projects. Try different approaches and then be disciplined in sticking to those that work best for you, your time and creativity, and your spirit.
Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and psychotherapist in Manhattan, as well as the author of The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice. For more information about Jennifer's writing and practice, visit: www.FindingYourVoice.com