Let me tell you about a job I had not long ago. It was one of those where your worth was based directly on how long you were at your desk. And it was insufferable for people to think they had to be chained to their desks to create value. Creatives especially work in sprints of creativity sometimes followed by long breaks. It’s just part of the process.
Despite this unspoken policy, I found it incredibly important to let my team know they had the freedom to work from where they wanted, take mid-day coffee breaks or even meet up with me to sit outside, chat about current and past projects, drink mediocre lattes and generally clear the mental air. It went against corporate culture and I’m not sure my entire team understood it, since we always heard rumblings “where is such-and-such?” or “Billy was gone for at least an hour NOT DURING LUNCH”. The horror!
Fast forward to the present day, when COVID has forced most employees to work from home permanently, while others are back in the office 1 to 2 days a week. I read a recent NY Times article that mentioned that people are working harder, more, and longer hours since they have no commute and feel like the Slack icon can never turn “away” in fear of the bossman watching. I started to wonder how this would affect a culture that is already worked to the bone. So, I decided to jot down a few thoughts on why, and how, frequent breaks followed by a push of hard work when the time is right, can not only be great for creativity but your mental health as well.
The Creative Process
Creativity doesn’t happen at the push of a button. This is why I always disliked client-driven brainstorm sessions that felt more like the creative team performing during a scheduled timeslot at a festival. But periods of daydreaming and rest, even during the workday, can lead to a wonderfully organic creative process. Constructive breaks prepare you for negative inspiration. Instead of going on vacation to be inspired, do things that will motivate you to let thoughts flow naturally into your mind. If you let your mind wander and see something new, your creativity will run wild.
As a creative person, you never know when the next big idea will come. I recommend keeping a notebook handy so you can quickly jot down any ideas that come to mind. Don’t let new ideas go to waste. It’s much easier to create this space for ideas to reach you than to bang your head against a wall. Take a walk around the building, multiple times if needed. Take a coffee break or go somewhere that will give inspiration for your current project. Somewhere you can sit and observe what’s going on that day. It may take a little more planning and effort, but the quality of your ideas will improve by giving them a chance to grow over time.
Defining Your Own Creative Process
Whether you have 9-5 clients or freelance work, every designer needs to show their personal brand some love from time to time. But if your creative mind is overwhelmed and exhausted by the designs you’ve been working on for your employer all day, it can be difficult to find time to gather energy and devote it to yourself. Vacations are a great opportunity to harmonize with what you love and can trigger you to redesign your website or start an exciting new project.
It’s always worth it to come up with the best way to package who you are, but unleashing a new level of creativity requires careful effort. That’s why it’s so important to get out of your comfort zone.
Give Your Brain A Break
Routines and processes are integral to business, but they can also lead to routines in your creativity that don’t necessarily drive good habits. Ultimately, you become trapped in a comfortable mindset that makes it difficult to provide the best work. Many times during the day, we break for a few hours, run errands, get in a workout, take the dog for a hike or meet a friend for a long lunch. When we return, the energy is flowing, the work product can be focused and more pointed and the results are more effective and efficient at the end of the day – no matter when the end of the day might be. If you set these boundaries upfront with your team and clients, the results will be far better than what you might think.
Types of Breaks (a Few That Might Surprise You)
- Exercise. Several famous writers are also known for their walking skills. Wonder why? Maybe because researchers at Stanford University who examined the relationship between walking and creativity found that taking a break and walking leads to more creative ideas than sitting down.
- Change your environment. Leaving work for a while and moving to another area can calm your mind and help you switch gears. A screened-in porch, sitting outside a coffee shop, or bellying up to the restaurant bar while your favorite team has a matinee game are all great ways to change the environment and spark creativity.
- Get in touch with nature. A mid-day hike can give you fresh air, visual stimulation, and a break from your screen. Plan conference calls or times of collaboration over the phone during these times and you’ll be energized and ready to tackle the rest of the day.
- Take a nap. Yes, a nap. Taking short naps has amazing health, productivity, and relaxation benefits. Studies show that napping can make you more alert, reduce stress and improve cognitive function. I know it sounds crazy, but a 20-minute power nap can do wonders even just twice a week.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation provides a break from constantly grinding away and allows your brain and breathing to slow down and get in tune. Meditation isn’t easy for some people, myself included, but there are tons of apps that have varying lengths of guided meditation that will help you along the journey.
- Daydreaming. Imagination relaxes your thoughts and takes you on a short journey into your subconscious, where chaos and creativity connect. Stare into the sky and notice how that cloud looks like Homer Simpson. It’s ok!
- Be creative – but in a different way. If your job requires you to use the left hemisphere of your brain rationally and verbally, consciously choose a break activity that activates your creative and visual right hemisphere – like drawing or writing. If you are already using that right side of the brain daily, take a break from the computer and go outside and draw for 20 minutes. You’ll feel recharged and maybe even have something to hang on the fridge.
At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you don’t feel wrong or that you are ”getting behind” with any break that you take. You’ll find yourself a more complete creative/designer/developer, a more engaged employee and generally a more positive human being. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go hit the bike trails.