Right from school, we are taught to concentrate on what we are doing and not let our mind wander around. Single-minded focus - whether in studies or in sports- is the secret to succeed.
At work, we are again rewarded for ‘hard work’ done in a coordinated, well-directed manner.
But, when stuck with a problem, or when struggling to complete a report, it may actually be more prudent to take a break and divert one’s mind, allowing the brain to organize the information overload.
Hanif Kureishi, writes about the ‘art of distraction’ in this piece in the New York Times. Reflecting on his own childhood where he was humiliated for not excelling in sports, he felt that he found his true calling- of becoming a writer- through the distractions that came his way. And this ‘art of distraction’ helped him overcome the writer’s block too.
…sometimes things get done better when you’re doing something else. If you’re writing and you get stuck, and you then make tea, while waiting for the kettle to boil the chances are good ideas will occur to you. Seeing that a sentence has to have a particular shape can’t be forced; you have to wait for your own judgment to inform you, and it usually does, in time. Some interruptions are worth having if they create a space for something to work in the fertile unconscious. Indeed, some distractions are more than useful; they might be more like realizations and can be as informative and multilayered as dreams. They might be where the excitement is.
You could say that attention needs to be paid to intuition; that one can learn to attend to the hidden self, and there might be something there worth listening to.
Obviously, one can’t allow the distractions to take one on long flights of fantasy, and a balance has to be struck.
It is said that distractions are too easy to come by now that most writers use computers, though it’s just as convenient to flee through the mind’s window into fantasy. In the end, a person requires a method. He must be able to distinguish between creative and destructive distractions by the sort of taste they leave, whether they feel depleting or fulfilling. And this can work only if he is, as much as possible, in good communication with himself — if he is, as it were, on his own side, caring for himself imaginatively, an artist of his own life.
That's why when the British designed the education curriculum, they placed equal importance to sciences, humanities and sports and enabled the right degree of distraction and to stimulate all parts of the brain.