Distraction Hurts Creativity*

In Management by Karen Buck

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?”

Marcus Aurelius

I don’t know whether or not you think about your work as a creative endeavor, but it is.

Yes, even when you spend all day in meetings, manipulating spreadsheets, and editing documents. Even the most mundane tasks of operating a mission-driven organization or agency add up to creating the future of that organization. They add up to the kind and amount of impact you make towards your mission. They add up to the difference that you, your colleagues, volunteers, partners, and participants make in the world.

Every day, every task, every conversation – you are engaged in a grand, creative endeavor.

And creativity requires focus.

Distraction hurts creativity. It gets you off track.

For a mission-driven nonprofit or agency, getting off track regularly is incredibly dangerous, and oh so easy. When you are mission-driven, anything that minimizes your impact needs to be taken very, very seriously.

You knew you hated your inbox (and that little chime your phone makes each time you get a new message!) for a reason. Well, this is it. At a gut level, we know that being at the beck and call of every little distraction dilutes our focus and moves us just a little bit more from our strategic goals and mission.

But, this is not a post about time management. Or productivity. Or unplugging. Or delegating.

This is a permission slip.

You officially have permission to focus. To say no to a meeting that doesn’t help you achieve your goals. To reply to that email or phone call or text at the end of the day instead of right this second. To not jump at every grant opportunity that crosses your desk because, “we could do that…”

Who are we to give you that permission? This isn’t coming from us. Blame it on your mission. Your mission and strategic goals require specific things from everyone engaged in their achievement. And those things require time, attention, expertise, and – yes – focus.

Meeting the needs of the mission is what you signed up for when you took this job, joined this board or committee, or entered into this partnership. It’s not a burden. It’s a privilege. And, it’s a tool. It’s your permission slip. It’s time to start using it.

Your work – whether that is conserving land, addressing health disparities in your community, building local food systems, fighting for clean water, or any of the 100’s of other critically important missions our clients work on – is a creative endeavor. And our world needs the impact your efforts create. Thank you for your important work and for letting us be a part of it.

Ever feel like you have too much to do to focus? Here are some ways to figure out what needs to come off the plate to make room for what is truly needed to meet your strategic goals and mission.

* All fired up after reading, “Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction,” by Leo Babauta (zenhabits.net).

(Image credit: Somersault Silhouette 2 by apostolic)