In my (dog-eared, well-loved) copy of choreographer Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, she writes:
The other obstacle to good work ... is distractions. ... When I commit to a project, I don't expand my contact with the world; I try to cut it off. I want to place myself in a bubble of monomaniacal absorption where I'm fully invested in the task at hand. As a result, I find I'm often subtracting things from my life rather than adding them. ... I list the biggest distractions in my life and make a pact with myself to do without them for a week.
She goes on to talk about the distractions she most often cuts out when immersed in a big project: movies, multitasking, numbers, and background music.
For me, this past two weeks, it was information. I subtracted blogs I read daily, music on my commute, and email on my phone. And here's what I'm thinking about now:
Going on a information fast frees up your brain to concentrate totally on the project at hand. Without all those fascinating but unrelated facts, figures, and needs calling for attention, creative solutions came to me more easily these past two weeks--as I fell asleep, while I was nursing my daughter, and when I was driving. Without any superfluous information to digest, I created content, made decisions, designed, collaborated, delegated, and worked through challenges more quickly than I ever have.
Of course, making a radical leap in your information input will have the most dramatic effect. I've done this before--with everything except the email. Mmmmm, the smartphone email.
About three weeks ago, I realized that the closer we got to launching, the more addicted I became to checking my inbox on my phone. This generally isn't a big issue for me; I rarely use my phone around my daughter. But in the space of a very short time, I became an email-refreshing junkie.
Not only was it distracting and rude to my kid (and whomever else might have been around), it was also shooting my anxiety into the stratosphere. I kept seeing emails come in at times when I couldn't respond to them. Important ones, low priority ones, total curveball ones. My brain was freaking out, darting around like a squirrel on a sugar high.
I made the radical decision to take email off my phone two and a half weeks before we launched, and it was the best decision I could have made for the project. Yep, I made myself less available.
But you know what? When I was working, I could zip through those emails in a concentrated, efficient way. When I wasn't working, my subconscious could kerchunk away on big picture project-issues that were truly important, rather than merely "urgent." If something truly urgent came up (as happened a couple of times), I got a phone call or a text.
And you'll definitely learn some things that you can apply in your regular, not-leading-up-to-something-big life.
So, on the blog-reading front: I'm glad I cut them out for those weeks, but I'm excited to check in with my favorite online writers again. They do add value to my life. What I won't be doing anymore is this: Squeezing in reading those writers on my smartphone whenever I have to wait for something for more than 30 seconds. I'll be reading them when I'm at my computer, or when I have a true wait. My brain works better with natural breaks.
And, and on the music front: I listened to music most of the way home from the launch event, and it was fabulous. I've definitely become more aware of how a particular song can influence my mood though, so I'm going to try to be intentional about my timing music that sends me into a downward thought spiral--even if it's music I like.
Finally, I don't know when or if I'll put email back on my phone. It can be inconvenient not to have easy access. That said, for right now, I'm happy with my slightly less smart phone.
If you haven't cut down your info stream in a while, why not take a couple of days to take a break? Pretend you're gearing up for something big, and see what your brain does with a little more space.