Mindful Creativity: How to increase creative focus in five steps

“It is not enough to be busy...we must ask: ‘what are we busy about?’” - Henry David Thoreau

Apple’s new Screen Time tool has got everyone talking and thinking about the amount of time we spend with our heads buried in our phones. It’s probably one of Apple’s most empowering additions to the iPhone until now; the new iOS 12 feature lets you know how much time you spend on apps, websites, and more. Most importantly, however, the goal is to help users take those insights and take control of the time they spend interacting with their devices.

Creative people might be a group that benefits most from a feature like this; as we become more and more engaged in creative work both online and on-screen, it has become harder to draw the line between creativity from productivity. But as easy as it is to blame our devices, apps, and notification alerts, it’s also important to look at ourselves — we need to manage our emotions as much as our devices.   

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When people talk about overcoming distractions from creativity, they tend to focus on reorganizing to-do lists or emptying inboxes. But in order to set ourselves up for a successful new routine, it’s important to understand who we are and what we’re trying to achieve.  That’s why we’ve listed some simple and holistic tips for avoiding distraction by understanding ourselves.

1. Find clarity

When we think about overcoming distractions, it’s tempting to focus on finding new tools and products that allow us to do more things in less time. The problem with a lot of “productivity advice” is that efficiency is considered to be the most important factor in relation to our creative output. Perhaps instead, we should consider the idea that focus actually begins with understanding our own intentions.

Shawn Blanc, Kansas-based writer, entrepreneur and founder of The Focus Course, believes that “the starting line for taking ownership of your time is to have clarity on your values.” According to Blanc, what this means is that we holistically look at ourselves and “don’t shy away from being honest with yourself and finding clarity about your vision, values, goals, and resources.
” By committing to clarity, we can easily identify patterns of behaviour that are destructive and focus more on things that are productive.

2. Go analog

There’s a tension between creativity and technology that demands that we sometimes shut things down before we end up shutting down ourselves. And it turns out that unplugging our devices and going back to basics is still a great idea. Studies from a series of experiments conducted by Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles show that college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures.  It might help to occasionally reintroduce simplicity into your creative routines in order to break from the digital distractions we face on a daily basis.

3. Acknowledge that tools are not the same as tasks

Emails are a great example of time-consuming routines that consume us and kill our productivity. Recent studies show that people in the workplace check their inboxes on average 74 times a day and spend roughly 28% of their total workday on the task of reading and responding to emails. Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe and founding editor of 99u.com and The Adobe 99U Conference, believes that “the true source of our love-hate relationship with email is that we treat it like a task when it’s actually a tool.” If we can shift our perspective of the role that certain digital tools play in our lives, we can train our brains to manage our tools and not the other way round.

4. Be honest with yourself

Moral character is probably not something that people think of when they think of how to be more creative and productive, but being truthful — whether it’s with clients, teammates, friends, and even yourself — is the type of mindset that actually creates a positive and helpful environment for creativity. Whether it’s providing feedback with a client, voicing opinions in an ideation session, or simply apologizing for a mistake you made, being honest can build the responsibility, accountability, and integrity you need to create a focus-driven, creative atmosphere.

5. Be self-aware

Writer and author Paul Jun believes that, “real habit change comes from taking a candid look at your shortcomings. Self-awareness is an incredibly valuable tool to have when you want to improve your productivity, mainly because being conscious of who you are, how you think, and how you perform certain tasks helps you know which methods you should use to achieve real focus. There are several practices for being productive, and self-awareness moves us further away from the one-size-fits-all approach to creative focus sold to us. As Behance founder and author of Making Ideas Happen Scott Belsky puts it, “we need to rethink our workflow from the ground up.”