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Relax & Do Nothing… Really

I just came across this great article on how slacking off might not be that bad of an idea from Fortune magazine. I’m completely on board with their thoughts/findings/opinions.

Relax!

…it’s really, really hard, if not impossible, for the human brain to come up with fresh new ideas when its owner is overworked, overtired, and stressed out.

I’m a web strategist by profession. I’m paid to come up with good, innovative ideas. My least creative times are when I’m slammed with work and don’t get a chance to relax and think.

Sure, I can problem shoot something at a tactical level in a crunch, but that has short-term benefits. Long-term benefits are derived from strategic thinking that allows you to see “the big picture” and to “think outside the box”. (cliche, I know, but fitting)

13 Comments

  1. You’re absolutely right, which is why so many strategy retreats / bosberaads / workshops (call them what you will) don’t bring up anything really new, although the mandatory game of golf or game drive beforehand may loosen the brain tie-downs slightly. This poses a dilemma, especially in professional service firms (which are my chosen domain of practice as a strategist.)

    Here, the time pressure in HUGE and the cost of assembling everybody at once enormous. So strategy workshops are, by sheer necessity, few and far between. Yet the need for well crafted strategy is obviously critical. How can one balance the two tensions?

    I think the answer is to use the workshop as the end of (or as a milestone in) a strategy process, rather than as the process itself. In other words, to discuss what has been discovered from interviews, surveys and other research and analysis conducted beforehand, and to brainstorm through actions. Because firms are so complex and so diverse, the ‘big picture’ is something that can only emerge through a process of uncovering it piece by piece, anyway. Most “strategy” in fact is not sitting back and dreaming about the journey that one seeks to undertake with one’s firm, as much as changing direction on the fly, sometimes radically, in response to market changes. More often than not, this does not require thinking ‘outside the box’ so much as facilitating communication between people that don’t normally communicate in everyday work, who collectively have the required answers anyway.

    Rob, very good points. I particularly understand and agree with your analysis on workshops and retreats. All to often, there is to much “work” scheduled during these times and not enough play. Some might disagree on this, but the best open-thinking brainstorm meetings I have are outside of a work environment. Meetings, even at retreats are still a work environment.

    For instance, I was recently at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technologies conference. I was blasted with a firehose of information at all the sessions. Some of those were very educational events, however the best use of my time was in the evenings when I was talking to people in a relaxed environment (read that as supper/drinks on the patio).

    Give me a “standard” conference, expect me to come back tired and with few new ideas.

    Give me a “loose” conference with a lot of break out time and fun, I’ll come back with some good ideas, excitement and new friends.

    Give me some time on vacation with no expectations (alone, with friends, or even work associates) and I’ll come back with breakthrough ideas and strategies, excitement to get some stuff done and fully charged with energy.

  2. I’m trying. This concept is not as easy as it seems in practice though.

  3. Hey Hash, give us your Boss’ email address and we’ll mail him a few arguments why he should allow you to take a few days off 😀

  4. thanks.
    your strategies got me fired!!!!!!!!!

  5. Very funny JKE & Swoosh… 🙂

  6. hey erik,
    what i wouldn’t give to be the one in the hammock. unfortunately joanna would have to be there with me. what’s the answer for new moms with babies? when do we get to relax? 🙂

  7. Wow that photograph is so cool!

    Sarah Ward asks when new moms with babies will get to relax. The answer is probably that it will be awhile;-) But the importance of doing nothing goes to kids too. It’s a family affair. It seems to me that parents who get to control the schedule to a great extent must pencil in nothing time. And then babies can teach us how to do nothing really well.

  8. Ah, that ever shifting pendulum of working harder and taking a step back. For most programmers it’s tradition to work the long hours to “finish the project.” I remember when I was first getting into the field seeing a book called “Late Night Active X” that had a picture of a guy at a computer and the screen reflected in his glasses, all 1s and 0s. I thought it was so cool. I thought I would empathize with the guys that stayed up late at night building the first Mac operating system, or the guys that worked legendary hours building software for IBO, Sony’s robotic dog.

    But then I realize that my late hours are on stuff that isn’t quite so cool. TPS report type uncoolness in fact. (I worked until 3:00AM to get a batch process working for one client that printed checks from their loan processing system).

    I think, after a while of pulling “trips to Australia” (16 or more hour days trying to get things done), that the one thing that rings true in this duality is that there will always be the long days and nights, no matter how many well meaning writers and thinkers claim that a person thinks better without them.

    In fact, places like France, where it’s illegal to work hard are completely void of discovery. Computer chips, cars, software, magazines… it all comes from places where people push themselves to do more than they thought they were able –

    The thing that I’ve learned is that the long hours and high intensity have to be done in a “burst” type approach. It’s hard to maintain intensity for weeks on end. When my pointy haired boss comes in and acts like we’re going to work 16 hour days for a few months it makes me laugh. That will make the project go slower. Instead he needs to do some rapid fire. Short intense periods, allow rest, then repeat.

    I agree that good thinking requires those periods of rest. But I think the challenge is to deal with the inevitable crunch and still manage to think clearly.

    Great comment David. I hope I wasn’t coming across as saying that you should take time too much time off and not be productive, that’s not what I was getting at here.

    My point is that in our crazy, hectic and highly profitable way of doing business, that we often forget to stop and let our minds think. We’re to jacked-up with the daily tactical things to figure out what the truly important strategic things are.

    I don’t need a vacation to come up with new ideas or strategies. What I do need to do sometimes, right in the middle of the mayhem even, is to take a walk to the park and feed the ducks. Something as mundane as that lets my brain breathe and clears my head.

    Innovation, ideas, strategy: those are the competitive advantages you want to cultivate as an individual in today’s global marketplace. They can program cheaper in India, China, Ukraine, etc…, they can’t necessarily out-innovate you though. Though there are plenty of jobs to be had for the programmer drone today, your ideas and your creativity are what will make you competitive in tomorrow’s world.

  9. That was an interesting article to read, thanks for the lead.

    My own view on the matter is one needs to know oneself. It has been my experience though, that creativity is hard to structure and it is more cyclical, and, as David implies (or do I put words in his mouth?), comes in bursts.

    I have found, when I need to, that there are ways to jolt my own creativity though. And when I cannot immediately get a way from a thing because of looming deadlines, I simply do something entirely different for an hour or two. When I’m looking at a budget that just won’t balance for example no matter what angle I look at it from, I read a few chapters of an Anne Tyler nover and find that that rests me, temporarily at least, and enough to get back to the task at hand and complete it.

    Rombo, I don’t think budgets ever balance – at least in my own experience… 🙂

    I follow the same pattern as you though. When things get extremely hectic I usually take a break.

  10. I am so feeling that hammock! Gently rocking with no care in the world!

    Time away builds creativity and releases those out-of-the-box ideas. How does one think out of the box when boxed up in an office?

  11. Milonare, after reading your last post, what type of hammock are you thinking about??? (wow, that was some funny stuff!) 🙂

  12. “Leisure is the mother of philosophy”
    – Thomas Hobbes.

  13. Interesting read and thanks for the link. Nice blog. I always get my ‘breakthrough’ ideas when I’m doing anything other than real work.

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