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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Comment & Add Your Voice

Robert A. Henru November 18, 2008 at 10:20 pm

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

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy November 18, 2008 at 10:26 pm

“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 ONE thing and pouring your heart into it.

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zen November 19, 2008 at 1:12 am

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!

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Nathalie Lussier from Billionaire Woman November 19, 2008 at 1:56 am

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. ;)

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Chris (from Lifestyle Project) November 19, 2008 at 2:05 am

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…

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jessica November 19, 2008 at 5:02 am

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.

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Dusan November 19, 2008 at 7:21 am

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

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CamKC November 19, 2008 at 11:12 am

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.

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Tara November 19, 2008 at 11:17 am

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 for being “a jack of all trades, and only pretty-decent-at-most.” Now I am starting to embrace it! I first started reading One Person/Multiple Careers, and now I’m into your blog, and onward!

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Ellie Walsh - Living the Law of Attraction November 19, 2008 at 12:49 pm

“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!

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Seamus Anthony November 19, 2008 at 3:24 pm

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 my free eBook Curly’s Law and it’s that I went back to my True Purpose (way deeper than career stuff) and then I break it all down from there. This gives me the freedom to do anything as long as it moves me towards my overall life goal via my sub-goals. This means a lot of stuff is “in” but a lot of stuff has to be left on the shelf for another time or even another lifetime.

The hard truth is that if you pay attention you will see that 99% of all truly successful people are micro-focussed on One Thing. It’s the trade-off for the success you desire.

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Wouter Meyers November 20, 2008 at 3:58 am

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!

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Kent @ The Financial Philosopher November 20, 2008 at 8:35 am

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 ADD wants to take me.

“In the cultivation of the mind, our emphasis should be not on concentration, but on attention. Concentration is a process of forcing the mind to narrow down to a point, whereas attention is without frontiers.” ~ Krishnamurti

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Amber November 20, 2008 at 4:41 pm

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!

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Brett Legree November 21, 2008 at 12:52 pm

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

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Jacque November 21, 2008 at 4:43 pm

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

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Kit (Keep It Trill) November 23, 2008 at 7:29 pm

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.

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Chris Edgar November 24, 2008 at 11:55 pm

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.

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Cyril November 25, 2008 at 7:39 am

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 your passion, you’ll cultivate this passion, make it grow, evolve.
IMHO, our objective should always be to achieve balance.

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Mike King November 26, 2008 at 12:21 am

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 appropriate as obviously there are times for both. This isn’t at all times though, I am convinced of that!

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Justin November 26, 2008 at 11:12 am

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. :)

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Mary@GoodlifeZen.com November 27, 2008 at 3:19 am

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

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terry November 30, 2008 at 5:12 pm

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 of society.

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mean June 28, 2009 at 2:28 am

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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Linda June 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm

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 work. I have had moments in passed when I have jumped from one thing to another and it was good, but I seem to have lost that. By the way I do have ADD I was border line for long time, I am now taking meds I could have had all my work and promos done10 X over! I haven’t changed my website or printed a new brochure, I have a lot more treatments, people won’t know about. Facebook, twitter etc scare me and I have had a lot of resistance with it, in my line of work I find it cold! and the way I used to market is no longer there and I miss my way. I don’t want to be tied to the computer, I like talking to people and sending mail the old fashioned way USPS!

Consequently, My business is going down hill, my interest and creativity is on the shelf, stores on line sell my skin care product line at almost whole price, so I have lost a lot of money there, plus the economy stinks and some clients can not always afford my services.

The thing is I know what I need to do to bring in new clients, I did it before in my spa, but I am not doing anything. I am at a loss (financially and creativity), no direction, and this is not a comfortable place for me to be. I ‘m wondering if is time to do something else or just do it differently or….

I love to work in my rose garden and plant flowers, I have adarondyke (misspelled) chairs In garage to paint, other pieces too, I have not done any for couple of years.

I got out of the rat race many years ago, I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know what else I could do….fast forward, I moved from UK to USA in 1985, still didn’t know what I was going to do. I started doing what has been suggested on this site…I’ve taken min wage jobs to try, worked in a shop like michaels, creative things to make, flower arrangments, painting etc. I managed to get a P/T job in the picture framing dept, choosing mats & frames etc. I have tried micrographics ..Copying legal papers and transferring to small negatives, An admissions officer, counseling & enrolling adults into a skilled courses, to be in job market, dental office, furniture refinishing then created a space in garage to do same for short while, then off again to try new things.

Some people in conversation ask about my work, before I’m half way through, they are in shock…jaw dropping & saying you have done everything, aren’t you afraid to do new things? Most of these people were just like me (before I started to try new jobs on for size.) They had one field/career, long terms. I said No I’m not afraid, I have learned how to do a lot of different things…aren’t you afraid you won’t be able to get a real job….and so on. I tried Interior design, didn’t finish course, I was surprising good, but I didn’t want to do as a living. I also went to school for massage therapy and worked in chiropractors offices, natural healing center and day spas. Then went to school to become an Aesthetician, (A what? never heard of it, neither had I!)…Facial treatments restoring skin to natural state of health, treating sun damage, rosacea, acne etc. I returned to school to get my master aesthetician licence. The last aesthetician job was working for a plastic surgeon, I learned a lot there including chemical peels, microdermabrasion and more advanced treatments.

I opened my spa fall 2002, hired people that knew more than me (they thought) how to run my business better than me! They only wanted to do bare minimum, I trained them, and they didn’t follow directions, didn’t want to be managed and sometimes wouldn’t show up! I usually worked 60+ hrs week, no life, no play, no rest! After doing this for 7 yrs. I was exhausted, didn’t think I could continue to work like this and keep my sanity & health. After much thought I decided I would prefer to work alone, instead of continually changing diapers for adult 2 yr olds!

I have an addition which was built at one side of my home when I bought it, so I created my own skin care studio. I was really happy, motivated, busy, but little by little I wasn’t feeling the same as I was. So here I am STUCK!

I apologize for being so lengthy, but once I started typing the words kept flowing!
I would appreciate any words of wisdom. I love this site, it is my first time using it.
Thank you.

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