in Entrepreneurship/Life as a founder, Productivity, Random Thoughts

Is there such a thing as a good distraction?

What’s the easiest way to increase your productivity?

Reduce the number of distractions and focus.

This advice is given time and time again.

Tim Ferris said the following in his book, The 4-Hour Work Week:

“Focus is a function, first and foremost, of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating… I think that focus is thought of as this magical ability. It’s not a magical ability. It’s put yourself in a padded room, with the problem that you need to work on, and shut the door. That’s it. The degree to which you can replicate that, and systematize it, is the extent to which you will have focus.” (source)

The fact is, this is much easier said than done. We have culturally developed ADD and we’re all so prone to react to distractions. For entrepreneurs especially, focus is a very hard, but necessary skill to develop.

In our daily lives we’re distracted by the push notifications we receive on our phones. At work it’s the ‘ding’ of an incoming email along with countless other things going on around us; both on our screens and physically in our working environment.

Being reactive at work, whilst sometimes necessary, can be hugely detrimental to our output. How can we expect to get tasks completed when we let ourselves become distracted by other incoming stimuli?

This in itself is one of the arguments for remote working. After all, M&Ms (meetings and managers) are the biggest distractions of all, right? Work from home and you eliminate both.

In his essay, ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule‘, Paul Graham outlines how makers have to set aside long periods of uninterrupted time in order to completely and wholeheartedly focus on a project.

“When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”

There is no doubt that distractions can be damaging. They take us off task, make us lose concentration and worst of all sometimes stop us ever finding it again.

My question is this: is there such a thing as a ‘good’ distraction?

This is a genuine question, as I’m yet to form an opinion.

As I’ve outlined above, there are a number of (very strong) arguments for why distractions should be avoided at all costs. They get in the way of real work being done.

However, the counter argument is that occasionally something really, really awesome comes up.

A very time sensitive opportunity that has to be acted on instantaneously, an insight from a colleague that leads to the solution of a problem you have been facing, or a meeting that leads a significant strategic breakthrough are just a few examples. Each initially takes you away from your original task, but could have a huge impact on the business long term.

Or, is it simply the case that keeping one eye open, allowing small distractions here and there throughout the day, causes more damage in the long run, that even a great distraction cannot equalise. Does it ever really net out over time?

My guess, at this stage, is that for most of us there is some kind of happy medium.


What’s your personal policy on distractions? How do you stay focused? Do you allow your mind to wonder? Let me know in the comments.

  1. I think this really depends on the nature of the work and individual in question. If I’m looking to think critically or be creative then the right kind of distraction is certainly a help. If I have pile of data to wade through then I would work in short intense periods without distraction.

    • I definitely agree with you on this.
      My thinking is more around whether the net effect of unwelcome distractions is actually positive over an extended period of time? Difficult to know I guess.

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