Distractions are everywhere. They pop up on my screens, they appear at my shoulder. Distractions stop me from doing that thing I thought would be a great idea because… wait, what was I doing again?

This is not just a work thing, it’s a tempo-of-life thing. I imagine most of us wish we were more resilient in the face of distractions. As the recent post by Matt Steel highlights, enforced slowness can be an effective technique, not to mention a life- and career-saving antidote to the constant sense of obligation to say yes.

But the quality of our work suffers too. If you’re perpetually distracted you spend all your time at surface level. It can be difficult to penetrate the problem with any depth. Depth yields insight, and insight is what differentiates your solution from that of anyone else.

Matt says the output of his design studio was beginning to look the same as the pressure of too many projects and too much responsibility invaded and occupied the mental territory where creativity lives. That will resonate with anyone who’s job it is to solve problems in powerfully new ways. How do you carve out the time it takes to see things differently?

Another post I read this week hit a similar note. It is by art historian Jennifer Roberts. She teaches at Harvard and writes eloquently of the need to help her students ‘decelerate’. If they are to learn effectively, they need to be equipped with ‘temporal discipline’.

“In the process of designing a syllabus I need not only to select readings, choose topics, and organize the sequence of material, but also to engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences. When will students work quickly? When slowly? When will they be expected to offer spontaneous responses, and when will they be expected to spend time in deeper contemplation?”

One task she gives her students is to spend exactly three hours looking at the artwork they’re going to write about. Three hours, in a gallery, looking only at one painting. It sounds absurd but this is the kind of discipline that reveals something that others don’t see.

Ultimately this is not about about resistance. Nor is it merely a palliative or pastoral concern. It is about empowerment. The imperative to taking back control is about how effective you want to be.

“Where patience once indicated a lack of control, now it is a form of control over the tempo of contemporary life that otherwise controls us. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment—perhaps now patience is power.”

I urge you to watch the video or read Jennifer Roberts’ write up of her video here.

But don’t worry if you don’t have the time. I know you’re busy.