Where is the line between procrastination and gathering inspiration?


When does checking Twitter or reading an article in The Atlantic cross the line from shame-worthy act of procrastination, into the defensible realm of a much-needed creative refresh? How long can you concentrate on a task before you take a break? Am I over thinking this?

I always assumed the latter, and didn’t give the topic of distraction-as-a-creative-refresh-tactic much thought.

But then I came across this article: The eternal struggle to balance creation and consumption by journalist and playwright Kara Cutruzzula. It’s essentially an explication of the weekly productivity reports she receives from RescueTime, a service that tracks your activities and assigns a productivity score to each. Checking LinkedIn or Slack hurts your score; writing in TextEdit or editing a spreadsheet improves it.

Kara describes RescueTime as an “infuriating and necessary tool for [her] creative life.” When her workweek is packed with deadlines and making stuff, she feels “drained, exhausted, and alive.” But when she procrastinates too much, she feels “stimulated, impatient, and deeply unfulfilled.”

I notice similar patterns with my work. But I’d add this: On days I get to do more than just writing (i.e. coding an email newsletter or brainstorming for a direct mail campaign), I’m much more likely to feel that *drained, exhausted, and alive” feeling. I think that’s part of the focus equation: when the tasks are considerably different, it’s easier to eschew procrastination.

The full article includes interviews with different creators. Check it out.

Photo by Flickr user Dickson Phua; used under Creative Commons.

Music, Creativity & Productivity

Does listening to headphones while writing/working/reading reduce productivity?

Let’s find out. If you’re not already listening to music, here’s a song I think you might like:

Apache Relay — “Good as Gold” {mp3}

For me, it depends on what I’m doing. For most things I find that it helps reduce the distraction of ambient noise and conversations. But I go back and forth. Because as focus-boosting as listening to music can be, sometimes those overheard conversations can spark new ideas.

Now Gregory Ciotti has added some much-needed science to the mix. Basically, listening to music while writing can be bad:

Since listening to words activates the language center of your brain, trying to engage in other language related tasks (like writing) would be akin to trying to hold a conversation while another person talks over you… while also strumming a guitar.

But it’s good on the assembly line.

And new music and minor chords may hamper concentration, but:

[m]usic with a dissonant tone was found to have no impact to productivity, while music in the major mode had different results: “Subjects hearing BGM (background music) achieved greater productivity when BGM was in the major mode.”

Check out the entire article {fast company} to find out when you should listen to classical music, sample playlists and more.

p.s. Apache Relay via {all songs considered}.

Leveraging Your Tribe

I’m a Seth Godin devotee. I blog about him, I read his blog, and I’m overall more inspired to make more stuff because of the way he frames creating and making a difference.

Seth’s new project is a test case of a method of publishing books he thinks will be the future for successful authors. Here’s his Kickstarter pitch, which gives a good overview of what he’s trying to do.

Seth already has the tribe. Now he has proven that you can get over 4,000 people to pledge over $287,000 to help publish a book that is now only an idea. Like he says in the video, Kickstarter isn’t useful for building a tribe, it’s true power is in leveraging the tribe you’ve been working to build.

I started working on my idea today, and I’ll share it with you when it’s ready to be shared.

Writing in Self-Imposed Confinement

This part of an article about singing naked and other rituals of creativity {guardian} caught my eye:

Writing rituals, like all fetishes associated with creativity, are intrinsically interesting. Jonathan Franzen attracted a lot of attention when he described writing The Corrections in a state of primitive solitude. According to Time magazine, “Franzen works in a rented office that he has stripped of all distractions. He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop … Because Franzen believes you can’t write serious fiction on a computer that’s connected to the internet, he not only removed the Dell’s wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port.”

I don’t think there would be another way to be a full-time, self-employed writer—and physically blocking your computer’s internet port is brilliant. I’d imagine he’d also have to leave his phone at home, too…

How Creativity Works

Jonah Lehrer is making the rounds to promote his new book, “Imagine” {amazon}. One of the major themes is the correlation between a relaxed state of mind and creativity. Anyone who’s spent time banging their head against the desk, stuck on a creative problem—only to find a breakthrough long after you’ve left work—can attest to this.

Here’s an excerpt from the Fresh Air interview:

“Moments of insight are a very-well studied psychological phenomenon with two defining features,” Lehrer tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “The answer comes out of the blue – when we least expect it. … [And] as soon as the answer arrives we know this is the answer we’ve been looking for. … The answer comes attached with a feeling of certainty, it feels like a revelation. These are the two defining features of a moment of insight, and they do seem to play a big role in creativity.”

Scientists have determined that people in a relaxed state and a good mood are far more likely to develop innovative or creative thoughts. And companies are now taking advantage of this fact. Lehrer points to 3M, which started out making packaging tape and has now expanded into other sectors including electronics and pharmaceutical delivery.

“Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth” {new yorker—no subscription required}.

“The Truth About Creativity” {salon}.