You know those activities you like to do to fill up time? Whether it's eating because you're bored, crafting or gaming between work tasks, or otherwise distracting yourself from what you're doing?
There are actually ways that those tasks can HELP you accomplish what you are trying to, rather than pulling you off course. But how do you know whether something is helpful or just plain distracting?
First of all, please know that taking a break from anything, whether you're doing it to get some play in, changing your location, switching up your tasks is beneficial for your productivity, your wellbeing, your stress levels. Doing something different for a moment is helpful for you in that it opens up a different neural pathway. So playing at work or taking a break for something useful can help you to solve a problem or give your productivity a boost, or just allow you to mentally step away for a moment and process in a different way.
One example of that kind of helpful activity is called Combinatory play, and Einstein used to do it by playing the violin when he was stuck on a math problem. You're mixing in a hobby or something fun with your work tasks. So, there are absolutely ways to partner with those "unrelated" activities into work and have them still BE work, and serve your process.
The question that we really want to ask is, “how do we know whether those activities are serving me, or whether they're distracting me and taking me off course?”And I have three starter questions for you to help you to know which one - is it serving or distracting me?
Are you intentionally stepping away, or do you just "find yourself" doing this - like eating or scrolling on the phone? When I’m acting unconsciously, I will “wake up” scrolling on my phone and think, “how did I get here?” That’s so much different than purposely setting my work aside and walking outside for a 20-minute stroll to get some air and clear my head.
Are you going to slam your laptop when someone walks by and sees you online shopping, or can you justify that as something you need to get your brain going? Are you eating in secret? Those activities probably aren’t helping you. When you find a side activity that helps you spur further creativity or productivity, you can justify it and have less of a problem telling a boss, partner, or friend why you’re not actively “working.”
This is a question you may need to test over time. You can ask yourself, “Am I sinking into this in order to escape, or is it generally opening up new neural pathways and inspiring me?” Keying in to how you feel about going back to work can be telling, here. I know that for me, if I go down an internet rabbit hole or get stuck on Netflix, the idea of ramping my productivity back up sounds utterly exhausting. If I take a walk, pull a tarot card, or sing some songs, however, I might get some inspiration that I need to get started again - even with some new ideas!
And then when you look at the activities you’re doing, ask yourself these questions, and you can say “Yes, these are serving me, these are super-charging my creativity and my productivity,” that's great! Make time to do those things, maybe even let your boss or a partner in on knowing that these are things you need to do. These are essential to your process.
When they are NOT serving you, when they're only distracting you or helping you to escape, there may be some underlying causes there and that's something I love looking at with clients in coaching sessions. Because if that habit or distraction isn't serving your ultimate goals for yourself or the task you're working on, it's definitely serving SOMETHING. So what is that thing it’s serving? Your comfort? Your ego? Safety?
You can try some self-coaching with these questions and see what comes up:
What do you notice about why you're (for example) reaching for your phone when you're stuck in a creative process?
What do you notice about what you are trying to satisfy as you (for example) go back to the cupboard?
What do you feel in your body as you think about stopping what you're doing and returning to real life?
Increasing awareness around distractions and creating more intention around them can help uncover clues about your tendencies and still allow you to partner with those distractions and with the underlying beliefs and feelings.
What comes to mind for you as we talk about generative versus distracting habits?
I'd love to hear how it goes for you to work through this process and start to notice what you're doing that takes you away from really living into your amazing potential. Feel free to download some of the activities I do to get unstuck, here!
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