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.
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.
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.
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.
At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you don’t feel wrong or are ”getting behind” with any break 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.