Distractions aren't ideal for most tasks, but they serve a purpose when it comes to brainstorming. 99U suggests a simple rule of thumb: embrace distractions when it comes to generating ideas; embrace focus when it comes to implementing ideas. Photo by tiago.
In a recent study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, researchers instructed participants to complete tasks designed to distract their focused attention. They found that the more creative achievements subjects reported on a questionnaire, the more distracted they tended to be. Here's what the study concluded:
...high creative achievement was related to quicker responses to the congruent than to the incongruent stimuli, suggesting that real-world creative achievement is indeed associated with leaky attention, whereas standard laboratory tests of divergent thinking are not.
It's one study, some of it is self-reported, and the correlation-causation argument could be made here, but really, this isn't anything new. We've explained before how distractions can help with outside-the-box thinking. As Scientific American puts it:
Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to "distraction" can be of benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering innovation and insight.
Again, when you need to focus, distraction can work against you. The balance, as 99U suggests, is simple: let your mind wander when you need to come up with ideas, and squash distractions when it's time to implement those ideas.
So how can you let your mind wander? Take breaks. Read a book. Watch a video. Talk to a friend. When I'm brainstorming ideas to write about and I get stuck, I call my mum. I get lost in conversation, my brain wanders from work and I inevitably come up with a few ideas. Chances are, you have a pretty good idea of what your distractions are, though. For more on how to use them to your advantage, head to 99U's full post below.