Look, there: Something new and shiny! It says it will improve your daily productivity levels by 200%! Hush, click it!

Wow. Their website is really pretty designed. And they got a Twitter account. These guys know about customer loyalty, I can tell! And their new app, it’s un-pre-ce-den-ted! It’ll get you focused right away. And it’s so pretty! And thoughtful! I mean, it uses tags and categories and it hides the icons on your desktop. Hell, there’s even an iPhone app! How cool is that? It syncs with the computer version, just like that!

Quick, buy it now!

Or wait. Just one second. Do you really think this will work?

Think again.

“Reducing Distraction through Care (Rather than braces, armatures, and puppet strings). Removing interruptions and external distractions that harm your work or life? Great. Counting on your distraction-removal tool to supplement your non-existent motivation to do work that will never get done anyway? Pathetic.” (Merlin Mann)

Unfortunately, Merlin is right. More and more people want to sell us pre-packaged solutions to deal with distractions, procrastination and our creative work. But there’s an inconvenient truth we should consider:

  • A minimalist workspace won’t save us from getting overwhelmed.
  • Getting Things Done won’t get things done for us.
  • iPhone apps won’t give us eternal focus and concentration, no matter how new and shiny they are.

The Sleeping MonkRemotely related question: Have you ever seen a Buddhist monk sleeping like a baby in some corner of a crowded and chaotic farmer’s market?

Here’s a thought: The real Zen creative is the mother with a 5-year old kid romping next to her, while she is sitting on the floor of a shabby room illuminated by a 20 watt light bulb. It’s a cold room, because she didn’t have enough money to pay the heating bill. Right outside her window a massive load of city traffic drives by – honking, creaking, raging – filling her dim room with exhaust fumes and never-ending noise. She doesn’t have a clear desk. Damn it, she doesn’t have a desk at all. She doesn’t have the latest gadgets. She never read Getting Things Done. She doesn’t know about Zen Habits. But instead of freaking out and complaining, all she does is concentrate, boot her 1999 IBM laptop, and do her fucking work. Because she cares. Because she’s got something to say.

Let’s be honest: Most of us are better off. But instead of doing our fucking work, we prefer to whine and nag and bitch around. We look for new distractions, so we have a reason to buy a new anti-distraction tool to distract us a little more. Buying new anti-distraction tools and decluttering our workspaces and setting up new productivity systems won’t get our work done. Sitting down and doing stuff will.

So if you care and if you’ve got something to say, you know what you should do: Get undistracted, sit down, and do that thing.

Wonderful Sleeping Monk photo CC (BY-NC-SA) Frank Boyd. (You have to picture the farmer’s market by yourself. Thanks!)