Creativity = Downtime
I’ve had a terribly busy year so far (the kind where I can’t even remember if I brushed my teeth or not so I brush again just in case) and have felt the need to recharge my depleted creative batteries as I’ve just started work on a new series of paintings along with a whole lot of other creative work I want to accomplish in the next few months. I hate anyone who hails multitasking as a virtue. It’s the single biggest killer of creativity. In fact, according to research multi-tasking depletes energy and results in stress and fatigue.
The solution though is quite simple. In order to be your creative best, you must allow for downtime. The opposite of uptime. Focused versus diffused. Active X Resting.
And while we might think of them in opposition, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang observes in his book Rest how both are necessary for creativity:
We misunderstand the relationship between work and rest. Work and rest are not polar opposites… Rest is not work’s adversary. Rest is work’s partner. They complement and complete each other.
Some of history’s most creative people, people whose achievements in art and science and literature are legendary, took rest very seriously. They found that in order to realise their ambitions, to do the kind of work they wanted to do, they needed rest. The right kinds of rest would restore their energy while allowing their muse, that mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going.
Spend some time doing nothing. Without the daily mess of constant stimulation and information input, the pressure dissipates, and our ideas are able to stretch their legs and come to life.
Taking a walk has long been a part of the daily rituals of history’s greatest thinkers. And taking a shower or playing with a pet offers the same benefits of winding down primary consciousness and letting ideas wander freely. More advanced techniques are sensory deprivation tanks, going on wilderness retreats, or getting on a train with no particular destination. But any time away from work is time we can coax serendipity to the surface.
Your mind takes your break time to address more important questions during your creative process. A break is essential to achieve your highest levels of performance.
People struggling to solve complicated problems might be better off switching to “diffuse” mode and letting their mind wander.
Take a walk. A few minutes stroll can increase blood flow to the brain, which can boost creative thought. Charles Darwin took long walks around London.
Dickens wrote his novels between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. After that, he would go out for a long walk. He once said, “If I couldn’t walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish.”
Find time to doodle. Let your mind wander as you embrace pen and paper, again. Research shows that doodling can stimulate new ideas and help us stay focused. Make time to exercise. Exercise can give you more energy and help you gain focus. Try this 7-minute workout.
Embrace meditation. Meditation lowers stress levels and improves overall health as well as creativity. Take a nap. A number of studies have established that naps sharpen concentration and improve the performance.
Take proper breaks, often. Completely clear your mind and begin again. Your next big idea depends on it.