A rigid fixation on “focus” can harm creative work

Productivity culture is obsessed with “deep work”, focus, etc. But a certain amount of serendipity and spontaneity is really important to creative work.

Sometimes the benefit comes from opening yourself up to unexpected inputs—so you have ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have.

At other times, it’s helpful to pay attention to those impulses to distract yourself because they may indicate subtle subconscious hunches you have—possibly useful direction to explore. Or they may help you understand that you’re actually not interested in your current project, or some element of it.

Also, just empirically, it’s usually not possible to do hard, ultra-focused creative work all day! It’s hard to do difficult creative work for more than a few hours a day

Related: Momentum as explore-exploit heuristic in creative work



There’s something peculiar about being “focused”. I used to think it was bad if I got distracted. For some types of rote, necessary work it really is best just to (try to) power through. But for some associative creative work, there’s a weird half-focus state that’s helpful too

Last updated 2023-07-13.