I’ve been reading a few articles recently on distractions and productivity. In general, they share the central thesis that “distractions are bad and kill your work.”

I find this to be very far from the case, and so when I read an article at Lifehacker on how three tasks might be swappable, I thought I’d advocate an even more extreme position– the way I work.

On my desk (pictured here), I have three screens. The center, monster one is where I put whatever I’m working on directly– websites, code, etc. On the left, I keep whatever I need to reference for my work; when I’m doing Rails work, that’s things like the server logs, an SSH terminal, etc. When I’m writing notes on papers, that’s where the papers are. And so on.

The right monitor is different, in that it contains (by design) nothing helpful. Instead, I fill it with distractions– my Woopra monitor, a window on the Twitterverse with TweetDeck (my client of choice), my IM contacts window, and other things that tend to scroll fast and make noise; sometimes Digg goes in there, for instance. What’s the point of all these shiny objects I can look at?

For my part, I find that I get lots of useful input from random things, and it’s not always clear from where that will come. Keeping an ongoing stream of data– email, Twitter, chatting with people who come to my website, etc.– means that I get a lot more opportunity for ideas that might be helpful to what I’m working on; in the worst case, perhaps I’m a bit slower, but in the best case, I get much better results from the project at hand.

The other advantage to me is that I don’t get as bored as quickly– since I don’t leave 100% of my focus on my primary task, I can work for longer periods of time. Ultimately, this translates into higher productivity, since the longer time more than balances out the time I spend looking at the newest kitten pictures. :-)