07 Dec The Art of PROcrastination – Choosing Effective Distractions
A few years ago I was obsessed with being productive.
Procrastination was a sinful word I wouldn’t dare entertain, and if I got any spare moment at all I would find myself unnecessarily organising my folders, organising my calendars months in advance, or even presetting time limits to when I’d see my friends. It was ridiculous.
What I found though, was even though I was making good amounts of work and was efficient in the value I was delivering, I wasn’t necessarily effective in the value I was delivering.
The ideas I were producing (as well as my quality of life) wasn’t really all that good.
Nowadays, I’m a big believer in breaks and find it utterly necessary for the creative process.
Maybe constant focus and 12-hour work marathons are useful for engineers, I don’t know, but I know that in more creative fields, it’s known that some of the best ideas come to us when walking in the park, or eating a pie in a simple café: They come at the most unexpected places and at the oddest of times.
Beethoven used to take long walks to inspire his creativity and Gertrude Stein said, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing”.
Of course, I’m not one to sit around waiting for the ‘spark’, I find it just too elusive and hard to bet on. I need strong routine and hard work to open up the gates to know exactly what to do when that ‘spark’ does come. W.H Auden was a strong believer, “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition”, though now, if taken too seriously, I believe it can hinder my creativity.
This is why I make sure I have time for distractions. Not “bad ones” though. Effective distractions. Ones which can nourish and build upon our creativity. Think, PROcrastination…
The trick is blacklisting certain procrastinative pursuits in trade for others which will stimulate creativity while also not leading us into black holes where time ceases to exist and you end up watching dog videos on YouTube for hours…
These will be the two elements to create your own effective distractions. It needs to stimulate your creativity but at all times you need to be in control of them.
I suppose it’s best to lead with examples. My favourite methods of effective distractions include:
Going for walks outside, and ideally in a park, if I can find one.
This gets me away from the computer, away from the room which I associate with work and into an environment where I can focus on something abundant and natural. I take special care in appreciating the trees, the grass, the season’s change, or even the architecture around me.
I’ll also go somewhere fairly busy like a market or a shopping district where I can observe people and their interactions.
The point is to change my focus into a different area and then return back to a creative environment ‘fresh’ having gone out and experienced something different.
Doing a quick Spanish practice on Duolingo
I have a Duolingo account which I stumble through a new language on. I’m not really that focused on learning a new language, though I do find it fascinating learning how different languages work.
This is something which I can do quickly in the middle of a project when I just need to get away for a few minutes to refresh. ‘Active breaks’ like this are great because you are not getting sucked into a black hole of distraction and are forced to think in a totally different way.
Imagine your brain after 2 hours of code writing and then putting it into an environment where it needs to translate a foreign language for ten minutes. It’s like a little holiday away while still keeping your brain engaged. It doesn’t numb the mind like many popular alternatives for procrastination but is an effective break for refreshing the mind. And you learn another language which is impressive for the ladies.
Having a simple scroll through Twitter, Instagram, etc (but never Facebook)
This is a dangerous one and only good if you are a trained PROcrastination master.
If your Twitter, Instagram, or whatever is full of worthy resources for your time this can be beneficial.
You will have to be the judge, but I recently had a clear out of my Twitter and now when I open it up, all I get is work from new artists, news from the world of design, some news feeds from prefered thought-leaders, and the occasional historical photo (cos they make me go, “ooooh”).
Remember, social media isn’t inherently evil (and don’t let some sandal-wearing hippie tell you otherwise), you have the power to create your environment. If useless Buzzfeed articles aren’t worth your time, unfollow. If seeing Kim Kardashian buying new eyelash curler (which she’s getting paid for) isn’t important to you, unfollow. If that record label which you went to the launch of three years ago is no longer relevant, unfollow. Be indiscriminate with that unfollow button. I’m still finding people to unfollow and I get sort of a ‘kick’ out of it when I do.
I also highly recommend going into the backend of your phone and turning 90% of the notifications ‘OFF’. You won’t miss out on anything, trust me. That way you only go on to app when YOU want to, and it’s not constantly tugging on your shirt sleeve like a naughty Labrador wanting his belly rubbed.
I’m not going to lie, this is a dangerous one as the potential for a black hole to appear can come at any time. Facebook for me is only really for real-life friends, and they can share some real shit, so this is a big no go for me. In fact, it’s blocked on my laptop via this extension for Google Chrome.
Lunch (of course)
Whether it’s a pre-made, café made or a sweaty meal deal from Tesco Express, enjoy it. Feel grateful for it and lose yourself in that sandwich or pot quinoa.
I find this is usually best mixed with a walk so you can really get your mind to focus on other things.
Plan something to do for the weekend
This is more something to remind myself with as I often get to Friday with no clue what’s going on at the weekend. So from now, this is a new one for me.
Instead of finding time to plan something I’m going to attribute the tendons of my activities throughout the week with the question, “what’s happening in London at the weekend?”
I feel this will be good as it takes your mind off the problems (or solutions) of your present moment and puts you in a mindset to presently plan for the weekend ahead.
Picking up the guitar (or some other fun hobby)
I enjoy playing jazz and classical guitar and I always have a piece ‘on the go’ which I am tackling. I don’t really write things, but I enjoy having an ongoing piece I can return to for a quick ten-minute practice in the middle of the day to escape what I’m currently doing.
Though for me, this ten-minute practice can quickly turn into an hour or two. I’m not sure how it happens but it’s much better for me that guitars to remain outside my working room so I don’t just pick them up.
Twenty Minute Meditation
Not existing for 20 minutes is probably the best break you can ever have. Ever. I do this twice, sometimes three times a day, and without preaching, it is the best productivity tool I have in my arsenal.
All your worries and achievements melt away; bringing you in contact with what is honest and truthful about all existence, which is this moment now. It’s nice to feel that when things are getting tough and it’s even nicer to be reminded of that when thing are going well. Jai Guru Dev.
Final thoughts to take away…
The most important thing to remember with all this is that if we are serious enough about our work, we are always working. Even when we think we’re not there is some subconscious force behind the eyes deep at work, putting things together laterally without end.
It’s in these times of conscious meandering we pick up different sources of stimulus which help the subconscious work something out (which may later be deemed by society as “genius”). We just need to remember to stay sharp with strong routine and a hard-working ethic to influence our subconscious to keep on track.
So when some god-like artist says that good ideas come out of nowhere – that’s not entirely true, they’ve worked on them for a long, long time. They’re just not aware they have been.