Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
A distracted mind is unfairly seen as the enemy of productivity.

Entire blog posts, courses, and books have been created to help us ditch the "bad habit" of distraction and "reprogram" our mind to the gold standard of work (or creation): iron-fisted focus.

It's true that, often, a state of distraction is linked to procrastination, and in certain cases, the one reinforces the other. So I understand why distraction can be the enemy of "getting things done." For example, you can be procrastinating and distracting yourself with mindless scrolling on your phone. But the two don't need to be linked. In fact, distraction without procrastination is a powerful catalyst for ideas that need a bit of chaos to self-organize in your mind.

That's because most of our ideas and insights come from letting our minds wander. Giving our brain time to bounce off different thoughts is how we produce new ones. Free association and allowing our thoughts to enter a dream-like quality is key for generating new insights. And that can rarely happen in a stern focus session.

When it comes to getting things done, we're biased towards prioritizing and optimizing the "active" part of the process: the focused state when we're deep in the trenches, mustering all our mental prowess in service of our goal. But not all progress happens this way.

Our glorification of focus can be traced back to our school years, but mainly to our work environment and culture. Because we're expected to perform many - if not all - our our job tasks mechanically and with the precision of Swiss watch, without much consideration for energy levels, emotional or physical needs, we swallowed the pill of undistracted attention as the only way to be "productive."

But the more I learn, grow and observe myself and other people as well, I become more convinced that a creative life, one of insight and contemplation, needs to intertwine periods of so-called distraction with periods of sacred focus. One cannot exist without the other.

There are plenty of guides and tutorials teaching us how to cultivate focus and discipline, but too little is said about using our downtime to complement those intense focusing sessions.

So here is my mini-guide on how to cultivate mindful distraction:
  • Engage in limited focus pastimes. These inhabit the middle point between rigorously structured focus sessions and distracted activities that don't produce any meaningful insight (like scrolling or binge watching TV). These limited focus activities require you to pay some attention to what you're doing, while also being free enough to facilitate productive mind wandering. As examples, these could be: drawing, cleaning, folding laundry, knitting, or any other repetitive tasks that don't require your full attention.
  • Don't over schedule your day. Having at least one unstructured time slot in your day, where you allow yourself to pursue any questions or thoughts that arise, will help you build a habit of cultivating intentional distraction.
  • Follow your curiosity. If you're in the middle of a "focused activity," but you get an idea or a question unrelated to the task at hand, allow yourself to indulge it. We're often told to suppress our "distracting" tendencies and carry on with what we were doing, but I think there's value in following our natural inquisitiveness. As long as you come back to the initial task when you're done, it's all gonna be fine.
  • Note it down. Maybe you had a lush session of mind wandering and your head is now buzzing with ideas. Well, don't let them peter out! Write them down. Then you can use the ideas that originated in your "distracted session" as a springboard for future projects. (Or maybe they remain just reflections on life. Not everything has to result in a concrete outcome to be of value.)

Timeless Content

Stop Trying To Manage Your Time
Kim Witten | 6 minute read
If you've tried different methods of time management and none of them seem to make sense for your life, maybe you need to approach things from a different angle. In today's featured article, designer and coach Kim Witten shares a handful of effective strategies to help you reimage the relationship you have with your time and how everything you want (and need) to do can fit into it more seamlessly.

Picture of the Week

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Author Matt Haig on the goal of learning:

To see the act of learning as something not for its own sake but because of what it will get you reduces the wonder of humanity. We are thinking, feeling, art-making, knowledge-hungry, marvelous animals, who understand ourselves and our world through the act of learning. It is an end in itself. It has far more to offer than the things it lets us write on application forms. It is a way to love living right now.

Source: Notes on a Nervous Planet

Question For You To Ponder

What is something that energizes you vs something that drains you?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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