Raymond Lee, FounderBy Raymond Lee, FounderJune 13, 20204 Minutes

Interruptions Ruin Creativity and Focus

Why do so many creative professionals prefer working remotely? The appeal of working offsite can best be explained by the flow of creative work and the havoc wreaked by interruptions.

Flow was defined in a 1990 paper by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as “a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity.” Designers know that feeling and work hard to achieve a state where all their attention is focused. The problem comes into focus and ideas to solve it start flowing. This rarified state can last a few minutes or a few hours, but unfortunately, it can be broken in an instant by an interruption: a friendly co-worker, an overzealous supervisor, a staff meeting, a phone call, a text or tweet. The cost of these interruptions can be significant.

Even the great composer Tchaikovsky lamented such interruptions: “In the midst of this magic process, it frequently happens that some external interruption wakes me … a ring at the bell, the entrance of my servant, the striking of the clock. Dreadful, indeed, are such interruptions. Sometimes they break the thread of inspiration for a considerable time, so that I have to seek it again–often in vain.” Maybe that’s why Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is “unfinished.”

To be fair, we are often our own worst enemy. Technology is the great interrupter today, and we each have to tame it in a way that works for us personally. Distraction is the second enemy of creative work. We all need to work very hard to sustain focus and not check a text or tweet or Facebook post. Once we’ve mastered our technology and ourselves, the environment becomes the next big hurdle.

A lot can be said for creating an office culture that respects flow and personal space so that creativity is fostered. Sometimes you find yourself in a space that feels quiet and in which people seem focused. But not everyone thrives in a quiet environment. Some prefer more energy or music. Personal rhythm also affects flow: some can focus better in the morning and others later in the day. 

That brings us back working remotely. The big advantage is that you control the environment and can adjust it to suit your preferences and foster your flow. I invariably hear people say that they do their best creative work when working from home. We have all been forced to adopt work-from-home strategies and many have increased their productivity in this environment. Smart companies will try to preserve the conditions that have enhanced the creativity and productivity of their people. Thus, working from home will undoubtedly play a greater part in the employment landscape of the future.



Interruption: The enemy of creative professionals. Jennifer Froleich, Crucial.com.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Harper and Row, 1990.


Raymond Lee, Founder