Distraction is underrated

I might check my phone 90 times a day, but some distraction is actually good.
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A letter from Boris

Before we get started...

First, let's begin with a couple of fun articles I read this week:

  • Everybody loves the crazy Boston Dynamics videos of robots doing backflips and parkour... but do you ever wonder how they pulled it off? That's why I loved this piece which breaks down how the company developed its humanoid robots.
  • Okay, this next one is hilarious. A developer made a parody site called "How I Experience Web Today" and it's painfully accurate. Give it a spin, I guarantee you'll get frustrated.

That's it, now onto the main act.


"You're missing the show"


In the book I'm currently reading, there's a scientist who is doing a lot of thinking. It's not just some 'everyday thinking' mind you, but constructive, scientific thinking.

She's gone as far as to eliminate ALL distractions around her, to make sure it's impossible for her to lose her train of thought. And what's her biggest distraction? Her phone.

Now I agree that our phones can be hugely distracting. I just checked my statistics, and last week I picked my phone up 90 times a day on average... and that's actually 17% down from the week before that.

Indeed, that's a lot of distracting moments and I wonder how often a pointless notification interrupted a vital thought process. Maybe I was close to a major scientific breakthrough, but it was lost forever when you liked my Instagram post. We'll never know.

But a life without distractions is an empty life. Instead, I desire to manage my distractions, rather than eliminate them. It also doesn't hurt that some of my best work is done while I'm distracted.

A casual chat with a neighbor about an utterly irrelevant subject might provide the breakthrough I was looking for. Doing the dishes or ironing my shirts can be highly meditative and inspiring. That doesn't mean that everybody agrees with me though.

Once, an employee told me that the random tasks assigned to people around the office were too much of a distraction. We were a smaller company back then, and we all had to do groceries at least once a week or even do the dishes.

When you're out shopping, you can't write code, reach out to a client, or design a new logo. I get that. But it does allow you to chat with a co-worker, look at how other companies do package design, or find other sources of inspiration in the world around you.

And who knows, maybe there's a reason you let some things distract you, while you ignore others. Perhaps you let the things through that might help you in the long run?


I learned this lesson at my first office outside of my house, which was in a members club. It was a little like Soho House, but at a different time. I found the distracting environment a great place to work and start a company.

Sure I was often distracted and spent a lot of time chatting to the people around me, but my work was so demanding and satisfying that I kept getting sucked back into it.

One evening, I was intensely focused on a programming challenge. I had worked on it for a few hours and couldn't quite figure out the solution.

As I was searching for clues, someone tapped me on my shoulder. The stranger pointed at my screen and asked me if the stuff I was doing was important. I nodded yes. He shrugged, pointed behind me, and said, "Well, you're missing the show."

You might not believe me, but I swear that a few meters behind me, a local fashion designer was showing off her new lingerie line. While I was working, they had built a whole catwalk and put down chairs, and were now in the middle of a show.

I eventually did turn around and watched the rest of the show — which didn't particularly help with my programming challenge if I'm being honest — but it does show that if you're really into your work, nothing unimportant can distract you. And in my case, not even lingerie models.

Like this and want to share it with a friend? Here's the link to the published version.

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Tweet of the week

Knighty Knight is right, definitely give this a read:

Screenshot 2021-08-26 at 11.52.47



Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Co-founder & CEO, TNW

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