Productivity articles abound, and readers are justifiably skeptical about claims of a productivity silver bullet. This article by Neil Pasricha is the exception. The author and speaker of TED fame makes a persuasive case for unto
uchable days as a way to re-capture the time and brain space everyone needs for creativity and problem solving.
Pasricha deftly slays the emergency dragon: “But, what about emergencies, you might be wondering? The short answer is that there really never are any.”
Pasrichai is right. With the exception of a few professions, there are no emergencies only excuses to get you to drop your life for some mythically urgent matter.
What’s the connection creative UX? Inspiration. Life many fields, UX requires time, attention, and creative breathing space. As a colleague said to me years ago, “Everyone needs simmer time.”
Simmer time refers to periods when you are not consciously concentrating on a specific issue, problem, or challenge. Simmer time is essential to creative UX and any endeavor requiring creative insights.
In this article, the author explains how the executive brain function that helps us analyze and solve certain problems must temporarily recede for creative insights to emerge
Fortunately, the brain adjusts to enable this transition. As you stop concentrating on a specific problem (perhaps a gnarly design problem or complex code block), gamma activity increases, suggesting a constellation of neurons binding together for the first time and creating a new, neural pathway.
At the same time, there is a burst of slower alpha-band activity over the right visual cortex to reduce distraction and the amount of visual information the brain takes in.
The point is that the brain helps you shift from conscious problem solving to a state where new neural pathways can be created, often resulting in new ideas.
Certainly, focusing on a specific challenge is essential. The point here is that giving your brain is equally important and could actually expedite your creative UX endeavors.
Humans learn to automatically pay attention to things that are relevant to their daily lives. For example, if you hear your name while talking to someone, you will momentarily turn your head. Parents automatically respond to a baby’s cry, even if it’s not their baby who is crying.
While useful in certain contexts, this automatic impulse has a dark side. More recent research reveals how easily people are distracted by smartphones.
Scholars at UC-San Diego, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Texas conducted an intervention to assess the impact of smart phones on common tasks such as solving math problems, memorizing random letters, and finishing incomplete patterns. The study included three variations:
- Subjects whose phones were turned off but on the table.
- Subjects whose phones were turned off and in their pocket.
- Subjects whose phones were in another room.
“The results were striking: individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed the best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks.”
The impaired performance of subjects whose smartphone was on the desk was akin to a lack of sleep even though the phone was powered down. The effect is powerful, “Our research suggests that, in a way, the mere presence of our smartphones is like the sound of our names — they are constantly calling to us, exerting a gravitational pull on our attention.”
Not surprisingly, the authors suggest away time including conducting some meetings without phones present. A simple but wise suggestion when engaged in deep analysis or when tackling challenging design problems requiring creative UX.
Usable, persuasive, and elegant design requires time and attention. Obvious, right? Yet, work environments and our own behavior rob us of what we really need to excel as creative UX researchers, interaction designers, and user interface designers.
Author Maura Thomas explains the importance of controlling distractions, or what she calls “attention management.” She then explains how with simple tips such as:
- Turning off email and push notifications, technologies designed to “steal your attention.”
- Setting boundaries with colleagues by wearing headphones or putting up a do not disturb sign.
This second tip reminds me of a colleague who literally put a shower curtain in his cubicle entrance when he did not want to be disturbed. Subtle, no? But it worked. People left him alone.
Equally compelling is Thomas’s discussion of internal factors, essentially frazzled brains that become a distraction in and of themselves.
Emails not only interrupt work but condition you to expect interruptions. You fear forgetting to answer an email or forward a document meaning that you are likely to do everything the moment the request arrives robbing you of uninterrupted time to concentrate on a challenging task.
- Becoming accustomed to single-tasking when your phone is off and you’ve posted a do-no-disturb sign.
- Paying close attention to your thoughts. When you notice your mind wandering, gently guide it back to the task at hand.
Creative UX requires time, attention, and focus. Whenever possible, manage your environment and minimize internal distractions to decrease stress and boost productivity.
Author John Saito makes a persuasive case for devoting time and energy to design documents. Rather than a list of design specs, Saito proposes connecting the design doc to product, engineering, and product copy.
Equally important are tips for creating a compelling document by including emojis, brief personas, stories, and lots of visuals along with the traditional wireframes/prototypes and design specs. In short, Saito show readers how to engage in creative UX.