So you start the day full of enthusiasm. You're excited about a new piece of creative work and itching to put your ideas into action. Firing up your computer, the familiar stream of e-mails pours into your inbox, burying the ones you didn't get round to replying to yesterday. Scanning through the list, your heart sinks - two of them look as though they require urgent action. You hit 'reply' and start typing a response to one of them... 20 minutes later you 'come round' and realise you've got sucked into the e-mail zone and have been sidetracked by interesting links sent by friends, as well as writing replies about issues that aren't a priority for you. You minimize the email window and get back to your project...
“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
So you start the day full of enthusiasm. You’re excited about a new piece of creative work and itching to put your ideas into action. Firing up your computer, the familiar stream of e-mails pours into your inbox, burying the ones you didn’t get round to replying to yesterday. Scanning through the list, your heart sinks – two of them look as though they require urgent action. You hit ‘reply’ and start typing a response to one of them… 20 minutes later you ‘come round’ and realise you’ve got sucked into the e-mail zone and have been sidetracked by interesting links sent by friends, as well as writing replies about issues that aren’t a priority for you. You minimize the e-mail window and get back to your project… After 15 minutes you’re really enjoying yourself, getting into your creative ﬂow – when the phone rings. Somebody wants something from you. Something to do with a meeting last week. You rummage through the papers on your desk, searching for your notes. You can’t ﬁnd them. Suddenly your heart leaps as you lift up a folder and ﬁnd an important letter you’d forgotten about – it needed an urgent response, several days ago. ‘Hang on, I’ll get back to you’ you tell the person on the phone, ‘I’ll ring you back when I’ve found it’. You put the phone down and pick up the letter – this needs sorting immediately, but you remember why you put it off – it involves several phone calls and hunting through your ﬁles for documents you’re not sure you even kept. By now, you’ve only got half an hour before your ﬁrst meeting and you’ve promised to ring that person back. . Your design stares at you reproachfully. The e-mail inbox is pinging away as it ﬁlls up – already there are more messages than before you started answering them. Your enthusiasm has nosedived and the day has hardly begun. Creative work seems like a distant dream.
Is this a familiar scenario for you? Swap the design software for a wordprocessor and I’ve been there a hundred times. In an ideal world we’d be putting all our time and energy into creative work, but the realities of modern work often seem to be conspiring against us. And in lots of ways the scenario is getting worse. The wonderful thing about modern technology is the amount of communication and information-sharing it facilitates. And the awful thing about modern technology is the amount of communication and information-sharing it facilitates. We are deluged with new information and connections, via telephones, webcams, instant messengers, e-mail, websites, blogs, newsletters, wikis, and social networking technology. The list gets longer every year. And with Blackberry and the mobile internet you can have data and demands coming at you 24/7. No wonder people are starting to run workshops on ‘digital stress’.
All of which is bad enough whatever your line of work. But if you’re a professional artist or creative, it’s even more damaging. Concentration is essential for creative work - certain stages of the creative process require single-minded focus on the task in hand. When we’re really in the zone, we experience ‘creative ﬂow’ – the ‘almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness’ that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has identiﬁed as characteristic of high-level creative performance. Interruptions, multi-tasking and the anxiety that comes from trying to juggle multiple commitments – these are in danger of eroding the focused concentration that is vital for your creativity.