ADD Is Your Friend or Why Distractions Are The Key To Your Success

Most supposed productivity gurus say “do one thing.” Focus on just one thing and you’ll excel. I’ve certainly written about this before. Among some people “do one thing” is practically a religion. While focusing on one thing is great and can help you make leaps and bounds in productivity and getting things done, it can dramatically stunt your creativity. And if you don’t care about creativity, fine. But it can also make you stupid.

That’s because often the most creative ideas come from the most unexpected sources. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas in for articles on this blog, from reading books completely unrelated to personal development. Some of the best ideas I’ve had for posts have been through reading books on travel, writing and personal biographies.

Creative ADD, and my thirst to pursue writing, music, drawing, graphic design and photography has led me to have a better and more holistic eye in all areas of art. Designing has helped me realize how to use pictures to have a better impact in blog posts. Studying lyrics and the structure of songs has helped me become better at understanding the flow of writing stories. Drawing helped me realize the patience and attention to detail necessary when crafting a melodic rhythm. All these different creative endeavors has led me not to be spread more thin between them, but has enhanced my ability throughout all of them.

Now, I’m not saying more is always better. There is a certain limit reached when chasing too many ambitions will lead you to accomplishing next to nothing at all. You have to devote a certain amount of time to becoming proficient at each.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” While this is true to an extent, there is also much to be gained from delving into many different aspirations. I’m not saying that knowledge you learned from say, cliff hanging, will give you lessons on how to be a better father. But you’ll have a much more diverse pool of experience to draw from. If all work and no play makes jack a dull boy, all working on one thing makes him even duller.

Another benefit to creative ADD is that by pursuing many different things, you dramatically increase your chances of finding your true love. If you don’t take the chance to explore and experiment with many different things, you likely will never know where your life’s purpose lies. I receive a lot of email from people asking them about how to find their life purpose. I tell them to follow their heart and try a lot of different things. They usually come back with the response “I don’t want to invest time into something and find out that I don’t like it after all.” This seems like it makes sense but it’s so counter to the truth. If you don’t take the risk of trekking down the many avenues of your heart’s desires, you’ll have no compass to orient yourself with.

So maybe you don’t want to have long-term add. Maybe you don’t want to mess around, “wasting time” trying to find your passion and you expect it to come in an illuminated golden dreamlike scene where God appears out of the sky and writes it in the clouds for you. Good luck with that.

If you’re like me, this is something you’ve struggled with: to focus on one thing or to explore many different options. I thought I had to choose. I didn’t want to waste all that time right? What I discovered is sometimes the answer isn’t either or. You can have the best of both, and avoid the extremes of each spectrum.

What I’ve started doing with multiple interests is choosing a major and minor sub-focuses. If I’m really interested in writing, drawing, playing drums and copywriting, I’ll have to figure out what my biggest priority is. If it’s writing, I’ll spend the majority of my time doing that, say 70%. The rest of my time is split up between the other areas of interest.

Try to find out if you’re holding yourself back by single focusing too much. Is your obsession with minimizing risk forcing you to settle for a job you only kind of like? What else might be out there? The more things you try, the more chances you have to discover your fullest potential. Of course, there’s a point of diminishing returns. I’m not recommending that you try everything on this list. But it might not hurt to diversify your intelligence. It certainly didn’t hurt Da Vinci.

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28 Comments on "ADD Is Your Friend or Why Distractions Are The Key To Your Success"

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Robert A. Henru
Guest

This is indeed not the same as what many people think. Recently I read from Seth Godin, if we choose to become generalist, then become an expert in generalist then. Be an expert in combining wide area of skills together, that combination will be the uniqueness of each individual of us.

Great reminder for us.
Thanks, Jonathan!
Robert

Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy
Guest
“What I’ve started doing with multiple interests is choosing a major and minor sub-focuses.” Great tactic! I’m very much like you, having interests in blogging, computers, music (playing trumpet, guitar, singing, and writing)and webdesign contending with my day job and personal responsibilities. With my creative interests, I tend to focus on one aspect per day, or for big projects I’ll take a week or two to focus on just that aspect. Life is short, but it’s also long…and there’s plenty of time to grow and create, just make sure when you’re doing that one thing, you’re concentrating on just that… Read more »
zen
Guest

Once again a great post. I subscribe to over a 100 blogs and this resonated.
It reminds me of some advice I received on career change. You can do all the analytical personailty tests you want but in the end you have got to try a career, mix with people who do it, try a secondment etc, etc. Nothing beats experimentation.
As the old zen saying goes if you want to know what sea water tastes like and you live in the middle of an island, keep on walking!

Nathalie Lussier from Billionaire Woman
Guest

I have creative ADD too. I have been told “jack of all trades, master of none” since high school. To that I replied that I enjoyed doing all these different things. It has worked for me, so why not keep it up? ;)

I like to think Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t let things stop him from putting it all together. ;)

Chris (from Lifestyle Project)
Guest

I too have found that I come up with blog post ideas from unrelated sources. I think this is because of our subconscious creativity ‘running in the background’.

Like you I have many interests and I like the way you say your prioritise the most important.

I’m still trying to find my passion though, so I’m staying tuned for more updates…

jessica
Guest

Hey Jonathan,

I have always suffered from this scatter-brain creativity, my whole life. Focus is impossible for me! if my rational side decides to work on my novel, then my creative ADD suddenly comes up with ideas for a film script, three new websites, a list of christmas presents for everyone and a new page in my scrapbook. Sometimes it drives me insane, but at the same time it feels awesome to be in the space where so many new ideas and fresh content comes to me.

Dusan
Guest

As always great post! you have to try to know if you like it or not, so go for it!

CamKC
Guest

Hello. There’s a whole book describing this personality type – it was a great relief to find it identified and recognised my “problem” – if you have creative ADD then you are a “scanner” in the book “What do I do when I want to do everything?” by Barbara Sher. She suggests some neat ways of coping with this condition, especially having “ready-to-go” workstations setup so you can easily and quickly jump from one interest to another.

Tara
Guest
I’ve just recently started reading your blog (or any blog of this type), and I’m so happy to know how many people out there share my “career ADD” as I’ve called it for years. I was very lucky to be raised by parents who supported me in my “explorations,” as I attended camps or seminars for kids interested in: creative writing, medicine, leadership, marine biology and more. Even though we were middle class, they always found money to allow me to pursue the next thing. As an adult, I started getting forced into a mold, or made to feel guilty… Read more »
Ellie Walsh - Living the Law of Attraction
Guest

“Most supposed productivity gurus say “do one thing.” Focus on just one thing and you’ll excel.”

Well – I have chose my one thing and that is Creative ADD and I promise you I Excel in it… and I am enjoying it!! :D

Great Article!

Seamus Anthony
Guest
Well as a pusher of “do one thing’ (see http://curlyslaw.com ) I have to say that I both agree and disagree with this. Firstly, what you describe by way of ADD is exactly me, I have multiple interests and sometimes can’t focus for avalanches of ideas completely unrelated to what I am ‘supposed’ to be doing. And I am thankful for this love of life and creative spark (more like an inferno actually). BUT I KNOW that the more I focus on a single path the further I get, the more I achieve. My way around this is described in… Read more »
Wouter Meyers
Guest

Seamus: yes, this is also what I noticed!

Jonathan, implicit in your article is that you find little gems in all the things that you do that help you achieve your one purpose; which for you is writing.

I personally haven’t found this overarching purpose yet. But right now I’m just starting to do the things that I like, following my heart and I know at one point I’ll come across my “one true love”!

Thanks for the article!

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Guest
Great post! I am certain that I am ADD but have never been “diagnosed.” I work on many things at once; I am easily distracted; and, at times, any one “distraction” can turn into hours spent on any one given project or pursuit. What works for me is to resist hyper-intentionally controlling my ADD tendencies. Rather than attempt “concentration,” I center on “attention” by allocating it to key areas, much in the same way as one might allocate a portfolio of investments. This way, I can create broad bounderies but still allow freedom to wander in the direction my creative… Read more »
Amber
Guest

I find it’s definitely hard to find a balance. I want to prioritize and focus in order to excel, but there always seems to be too many things pulling at my attention. I too dabble in everything. I love being completely immersed in new things everyday. I have to ground myself by prioritizing like you do…make one thing your focus and then section out the rest of your time for the others. Great topic!

Brett Legree
Guest

I swear – this describes me perfectly.

I often let my mind wander freely when it wants to do so, then capture the results on paper – allowing me to feel better about it, and get back to whatever I’m supposed to be doing at the time :)

(Like right now, on a Friday afternoon at work… just did some mind mapping, grabbed a coffee to read this, and now – back to work!!!)

Thanks, this is a great post – Brett

Jacque
Guest

Jonathan:
What a great site! Your post reminded me of a book I’m reading right now that I thought you might find interesting. It is about personal development, but it’s a different approach that I am digging. It’s called Just Enough and it’s by two Harvard MBA profs, Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/3966.html They interviwed a bunch of biz types and found that success is a moving target and that we all need to be able to focus on doing a lot of different things at the same time. Very cool. Thanks Jonathan, I’ll be visiting often.

Cheers,
Jacque
http://www.101smackdowns.com

Kit (Keep It Trill)
Guest

I don’t know who said it, but they’re right. The ADHD individual of today is a hunter living in a farmer society.

I agree with this, and all that it implies.

Chris Edgar
Guest

Thanks for this post. One perspective on this issue is that taking up a large number of pursuits won’t limit our success so long as we devote our full attention to each task we do while we’re doing it, as opposed to allowing your awareness to drift off into, say, nuclear physics while you’re doing your painting.

Cyril
Guest
I think that, as usual, the important think is to balance. Everything in our life should be balanced, excess is always a bad thing, whatever the excess is. Focusing on only one action is good, because if you let your mind wander all the time then you’ll achieve nothing. On the other hand, if you stay only focus on your actions you’ll miss a lot of beautiful/interesting things. It’s like if you find a passion and you do just that, you’ll get bored in no time and stop doing what you called a passion. If you try different things alongside… Read more »
Mike King
Guest
While I do agree that covering many areas and topics can be useful for creativity, I don’t agree that that is the same thing as focus. You can easily focus on one thing at a time but still do a huge variety of things that expand your scope and instill the needed creativity. I’d put distractions outside this areas as well as they are generally things that get in the way that DON’T really add any value. I think your points about having both are important, what I would find more useful though is ways to explore when each are… Read more »
Justin
Guest

Thanks, great post. This post validates my scatter brain. It’s very difficult to focus on one thing. But you’re right you never know when inspiration is gonna hit – so keep plugging away. :)

Mary@GoodlifeZen.com
Guest

Just one thing? Someone forgot to tell Da Vinci about that!

terry
Guest
I know the beast well. I too have felt the pressure of a single point focus culture. With ADD and the added disability of having too many aptitudes I finally realized that there is no fit for me in this country and that it was up to me to make my own niche in life. I can’t say it has been easy sometimes, but that was the roll of the dice; at least I no longer have to work for somebody who doesn’t understand me and I am free to please myself. This actually makes me a more functional member… Read more »
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[…] Would you just focus?! If your homeschooling a kid with ADD, you’ve probably said that more than once. Here is an engaging article from the illuminatedmind blog about the benefits of why not focusing on just one thing at a time has it’s benefits: ADD Is Your Friend or Why Distractions Are The Key To Your Success […]

mean
Guest

Great post! it fits my lifestyle and it helped me balance my thoughts of my work. I would like to know more of your inspiring productivity ideas. Please keep it up! you’re changing many people here for the better^^

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[…] on your own terms”. Imagine that. He wrote an article which was of special interest to me: ADD Is Your Friend or Why Distractions Are The Key To Your Success. Albeit he doesn’t necessarily depart from the “focus on one thing” advice he […]

Linda
Guest
Hi, I am pretty much like a lot of you! Lots Right now I am stuck, no energy, motivation, uncreative and doing nothing. a lot of things some important, some for bookkeeper (deadlines) and more… I have been like this for a long time….depressed, burnt out, no purpose. I have had lots of time available to do the work and if I had used that time (one stack at a time, I’ve been told, post it notes, lists long med. short, set a timer, make a decision to do whatever before bed and in am I’ve tried other organizational systems…non… Read more »
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