Distracted from the task at hand? Embrace it.

This article appeared first on Forbes.com     

Do you get easily distracted from the task at hand? I do. My mind wanders.

Writing this piece is, for me, a distraction from my client work. I didn’t plan it, it just seemed to get itself started. And hopefully reading it is a welcome distraction for you.

These distractions may not be getting us closer to completing today’s deliverable (though often they turn out to be just the thing that makes it great) but they are most likely aiding us en route to our larger goal, whatever that may be.

Don’t Diss Distractions

Distractions are valuable opportunities for different parts of your brain to work. They set you up to return to the original task refreshed and with a new mindset. When you come back to it, you will see aspects and have ideas that could never have come to you if you had just stayed on it and pushed away those distractions.
It certainly works for me. I can stare and stare at a task until it becomes the enemy. A problem seems intractable. The task, Sisyphean. And a downward spiral into uselessness and unproductivity begins. OK, that’s a dramatic overstatement, but you get my point.

Take A Distraction Break

So I just now got distracted and broke off from writing this. I answered an email. I ate an apple. I got a glass of water. And then I had the idea to write these sentences about taking the break. And I am OK with them; they bring some vividness to my tale here. After all, the immediate goal (even distractions can have goals) is to write a piece that might resonate with a few readers and make them feel less guilty about their own “inability to concentrate.”

In my honest opinion, concentration is overrated. The bits and pieces you are gathering while you are distracted provide you with a bunch of new components to work with. You’ll return to base with a renewed focus and fresh ideas.

Do you have a workshop or a box of oddments that you raid when you want to fix something or solve some physical problem? I do. A whole bunch of those bits and pieces are the inevitable leftovers from IKEA kits. (What is that about?) Often they are mysterious in original intent but they can trigger new ideas as you turn them over in your hands.

We are creative people, and first and foremost, creativity is about making connections. Making the same old connections does not create anything new, but if you have new components combined in new ways, you are likely to make something that hasn’t been thought of before. Now that’s creativity.

All of this circles around to a couple of ideas I have written about recently: the crazy wall and the creative lab. They’re about connecting and re-connecting, assembling and disassembling, making choices and getting excited when roads diverge or come together, whether with a goal in mind or just to see what happens.

Distractions let the brain regroup. They reactivate other neurons — don’t forget those little guys are all connected.

When To Distract Yourself From Your Distractions

Distractions shouldn’t happen in place of what you are supposed to do. I simply want to posit that distractions can be a valuable part of getting that thing done brilliantly.

But do be clear, before you get distracted, on what it is that you are being distracted from. Keep your eyes on the prize — why were you doing it in the first place? What is your goal, your deliverable — and when is it due? Set an alarm. Put it on your calendar. Award yourself a cookie when you get back to it. Whatever works for you.

Once you have those pieces in place and have made yourself a promise to respect them, open yourself up to those productive distractions! Just remember to distract yourself from those distractions when the pressure’s on!

Actually, when I started writing this piece I was going to call it, “Eyes On The Prize.” Wait, was that another distraction?

Just a minute — wow — look at that shiny object over there …