Digital Distraction is Causing the Demise of CreativityLast spring, I donned my blue and yellow cycling kit, pink arm warmers (let’s be real, spring in Chicago isn’t all that warm), and my purple helmet and set out for the lakefront.

Before school gets out and the tourists arrive, a lunchtime ride along Lake Michigan is the perfect way to re-energize and prepare for your afternoon.

(Not so much when everyone else has the same idea.)

I was looking forward to this ride because I was finally not riding on the trainer in my freezing cold basement and I wanted to see what all the winter training had done to make me stronger against the forces of nature.

Not only that, but this particular day was a bluebird day. The sun hit the lake perfectly and the rays lifted off the water as if the sun were opening its arms to welcome me in.

The horizon was dotted with sailboats making their 2017 maiden voyages into the great blue yonder.

I was to ride 30 miles on a prescribed tempo ride from my coach—a quick 90 minutes.

Get in, get out. No one gets hurt.

(Don’t worry. This isn’t a story about some freak accident I had where I broke my pelvis, my hip, and my femur, combined with a concussion. Though I do speak from experience.)

Keep Your Cadence Consistent

I set the prescribed ride in my Garmin, climbed on my bike, and coasted down our side street for the half a mile to the lakefront.

Once I got there and on the path, I started pedaling in Zone 2 to get warmed up and get past the busiest part so I’d be able to ride fast, uninterrupted.

The wind was blowing pretty hard—26 mph—into my face, but I kept telling myself, “If you can’t ride in the mountains, this is the next best thing.”

Plus, I knew I got to turn around and the ride home would be gloriously fast.

I shifted my gears so I could ride at a high cadence—90+ RPMs—and got to work.

The first few miles passed without incident.

The beaches had a few brave souls lounging in the sand, throwing balls to their dogs, playing some volleyball, or walking barefoot along the shoreline.

For the most part, the path was clear and I was able to focus on the ride.

Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Keep your cadence consistent. Don’t try to go too fast. You’ll be rewarded on the way home.

Though the wind wasn’t blowing any harder, it was gradually getting harder.

It was just me, the wind, my bike, and my thoughts.

Being Alone With Your Thoughts

It’s not easy to work that hard without music or some kind of distraction.

The seconds turn into minutes; the minutes into hours.

Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Keep your cadence consistent. Don’t try to go too fast. You’ll be rewarded on the way home.

But I was alone with my thoughts—and trying to focus on something other than how hard the ride was.

That’s when your mind begins to wander.

Your legs know what to do. There isn’t anyone nonchalantly crossing the path without looking. Just you and your thoughts.

As an introvert, I like to be alone with my thoughts.

Not to say I don’t want to be around people. I care very deeply about what they think—which is both a strength and a weakness.

I crave the respect and attention of you, our dear readers.

I passionately want people to find so much value in the PR Dream Team that they spend their precious and limited time with us.

Not to mention the socializing I get through Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and LinkedIn and Medium and Slack.

But I do like to be alone with my thoughts because in that is when actual thinking occurs.

The Internet Doesn’t Allow Us to Be Alone

So much thinking occurs during that time, in fact, that when I float a new idea to my team, they all give each other that knowing look.

She’s been riding her bike again. Alone. With her thoughts.

It used to be that we had time to be alone with our thoughts.

Some of you may not even remember or know that time.

There was a time where email and the internet did not exist.

Where, when it was time to leave work, you actually left work and everything behind.

If you had more work to do, you carved out time and went into the office to do it.

And then you left again.

But email and the internet—and then social media—changed all of that.

Today, we don’t have to ever be alone with our thoughts.

If we have writer’s block, want to procrastinate, or have hit the proverbial wall, all we have to do is open Facebook.

Even the introvert, who is a master at being alone, can still be alone in the room and get online for the social interaction every human being craves, needs, and desires.

The Demise of Creativity and Critical Thinking

And that’s causing the demise of creativity and of thinking.

We’ve become accustomed to reading things in 140 characters—and not delving any deeper.

On the flip side, we’ve learned to write and think the same way.

Critical thinking skills feel like they’ve gone by the wayside.

And where are we without creativity? Without the time to be alone with our thoughts?

I know where I would be—without a single great idea to grow my business or propel us forward.

Once I turned around on my bike ride last spring, the wind was behind me and it felt like I was barely pedaling.

Because the time was going so quickly, I was able to let my mind wander even more.

I solved an HR issue that had been evading me for weeks.

A couple of smaller issues that needed different solutions were suddenly clear.

And our next online course—The Content Secret to Closing More Clients—was created.

Not created, created—I’m not that talented. But what we’d been debating internally for weeks was no longer a challenge.

I knew what we had to offer and the outline began to form in my head.

But I Don’t Have Time

Time, of course, is an issue for all of us.

When I meet with my mastermind group every month, nearly every person says they’re struggling with having not enough time.

And perhaps spending 90 minutes at lunchtime on a bike ride doesn’t work for you.

But every, single one of us can take 15 minutes and walk around the block, without our phones.

If you have a challenge you can’t solve, have writer’s block, or need a burst of creativity, use that 15 minutes wisely.

Take the dog for a walk and leave your phone at home.

Tell your team you’ll be back in a few minutes and leave your phone on your desk.

Leave. Your. Phone.

(Or Apple watch.)

Be alone with your thoughts.

Use the time to think or to just let your mind wander.

You’ll be amazed at what will happen when you allow yourself some time to just be.

Carve Out the Time to Think

I long for the days I can be outside on my bike.

Just me, the wind, my bike, and my thoughts.

Being stuck on the trainer in my freezing cold basement means serious Netflix catch up. By the time springtime rolls around, I will have watched everything everyone talks about.

(The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, anyone?)

But my creativity dwindles.

Problems stack up and become bigger than necessary.

I don’t have time to think.

In today’s world of digital distraction, we have to carve out the time to think.

Commit to 15 minutes every day.

If you have to, write down what you want to think about during those 15 minutes.

Then leave your desk, walk, and think.

It may not work the first few times.

You’ll be caught up in everything you have to do, the responsibilities that continue to pile up, as will the things you forgot to do.

You may even spend your 15 minutes trying not to forget what you’ve already forgotten that you need to do.

The next time you’ll take a notebook or a post-it notepad with you.

Do not take your phone.

By the end of week one, you’ll have begun to think.

Actually think.

And then, without willing it yourself, the creativity will return.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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