‘The enemy of creative work is boredom’

It’s half term here in Hampshire, but I managed to bribe the kids to stay quiet long enough to allow me to fit in a fabulous podcast interview today with Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less, columnist for the FT, and author of Messy: How To be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

As you’d expect, he’s extremely interesting/articulate. It’s not being broadcast until May, sorry, but it’s going to be a BRILLIANT episode. Already one of my favourites. But here’s a sneak peek since you’ve gone to the trouble of reading this blog: 

While he was researching Messy, Harford spoke at length to Brian Eno and he shared with me this insight from the great man:

The friend of creative work is attention, and the enemy of creative work is boredom.

And that’s very much the point of Messy: how we find ways to make ourselves pay attention. Tim himself has always instinctively multitasked – having several projects on the go, working on one for a while (20 minutes or 20 days, depending on the project), and switching between them. The result, he’s found, is a creative release: when he runs into a brick wall on one project, he can find an outlet on another, and while he works on the second his subconscious is busy solving the first, so he comes back refreshed and with an entirely new perspective. It’s about management of attention, and keeping things fresh.

I found it very reassuring to know that my inability to focus on one project to the exclusion of everything else isn’t a character flaw. Apparently Darwin was dreadful at this too. Creative people in general, Tim concluded, work by switching between multiple projects.

I hope you find that as encouraging as I did. (The bad news, I’m afraid, is that apparently watching cat videos on Facebook does not count as a creative project.)