The Butterfly Pad

The problem: “Butterflies” are distracting thoughts that pop into our heads while we are working. If we pay attention to them, it’s easy to spend the day “chasing butterflies”, switching constantly from one thing to another.

The trick: Keep a pad of paper and a pen handy. When a butterfly
pops up write it down quickly and keep working.

The secret: When doing creative work, changing focus costs time because when you come back to a project you have to remember where you were, what you were thinking about and what you were about to do.

Why it works: We’re not very good at holding thoughts in our heads
while we do other things, so we interrupt ourselves to do something
right away so we won’t forget it. Writing it down means it’s out
of your head, but not lost. It’s “safe”, and you can stay focused
on what you were working on.

PS: Even small butterflies (“Oh, this will just take two minutes”)
are dangerous when your goal is to stay focused.

That’s it. Have a great day.


  1. steve

    i cant believe that the blatently obvious is being thrusted right in front of my own face , and i know that everything you say is so damn true its embarrasing . its good to hear the silent criticism . . . i know its true

  2. Aaron

    Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. Sometimes success seems like simply not forgetting what we already know, doesn’t it? :)

  3. Irma Rosales

    Coincidentally in medicine also applies to people who are insomniacs by stress, then what they have to do is write as a list of all outstanding just before bedtime.
    True, in these days it’s hard to stay focused!, Thanks for the tips.

  4. Erica C

    Great article. I always say if I don’t write something down, it doesn’t exist. I am terrible to get up to do something real quick, and then not be able to remember what I was doing to start with. Add a 2 year old in with my ADHD and you can see why I always carry a pad around.
    I have gotten into the habit of dictating too, especially while I am driving. I do own a transcription company but there is a Blackberry/iPhone program called Vlingo that is wonderful speech recognition for short memos. (Shh… Don’t tell my transcriptionists.)

  5. Jerry L. Schlangenstein

    Hey, Aaron! Great idea. I call it my “to do list”.
    You see, I am a life long list maker/keeper, and I
    always have it with me, along with my phone. I never
    mark an item off my list until it is completed—
    partial to-do’s don’t count. When I get off-track,
    the sight of, or feel of the list in my pocket,pulls
    me back. Thanks, and keep ‘em coming.

  6. Oladayo

    Nice tips and very great.hope 2 start keeping such

  7. Carrie Horwood

    Thanks Aaron, I am a sculptor and find this a very hard thing to control, now you have pointed out the solution, it seems so simple!

  8. patty

    Cool. I’m a fan of lists but often lose the list. ADD plus bi-polar releases a LOT of energy but I get distracted easily. I’m going to check out that Blackberry application for dictating …

  9. Gilson Nassar

    I have 1000 butterflies around me every day and it keeps me losing my traffic.

    Thank you so much for the such advise. Simple but efficient!


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