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May 29, 2019

“Whatcha doing?”

That’s all it takes. If you do any kind of creative work, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s those interruptions that break into whatever it is that you happen to be in deep thought about, completely derailing a train of thought that you’ve spent minutes or hours building. Photographers, writers, even programmers — we all have our stories about interrupted trains of thought.

The hardest part of it is, the people responsible for the derails are all well-meaning. Most of the time, it’s a spouse, a child. If you’re at work, then it’s your friendly coworker just popping his or her head into your office to say hello. These people often utterly unaware of the time they’ve cost you with one little interruption.

And just how much time does an interruption cost you? Well, there is all kinds of research on the subject, and the consensus seems to be that interruptions result in an enormous amount of lost time. The answer differs from one person to the next, but to answer it for yourself, think about when you started down a particular train of thought. You aren’t just losing the time spent on the distraction. You’re also losing everything leading up to that distraction.

So, if you’re a photographer who has been staring at a composition for an hour, attempting to reimagine elements in different parts of the frame or a whole new color scheme, an interruption not only cost you a few minutes, but it also cost you that hour that you’ve spent thinking. The same is true if you’re a writer, watching scenes play out in your mind’s eye. Someone walks into your office to say something and all those scenes you’ve been pondering for however long, they’re all gone.

It’s a little jarring! If we imagine ourselves just like a comic strip, with little thought bubbles over our heads, the feeling is the same as if someone just pricked that thought bubble with a needle. Poof! All the thoughts you’ve been turning over for the last while vanish, many of them never to be seen again.

What is the solution? Well, it depends on who is doing the interrupting, of course, but in general, the solution is going to depend in large part on you and how you communicate with those around you. Let me share a few tips that may help you minimize interruptions during your creative time — and hopefully help you avoid hurt feelings between you and your loved ones and coworkers...

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