Eric Weiner, journalist and author of the book “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World”, believes the Viennese pastime of sitting and thinking about nothing, and everything — something he calls “productive idleness” — can help open the door to creativity.
The Viennese are onto something. Psychology tells us that idleness — a certain kind, anyway — boosts creativity. It happens during the “incubation stage” of the creative process. This is when we stop turning over a problem in our conscious mind and, instead, allow our subconscious to take a whack at it. When the perfect solution to a problem occurs to you in the shower, it’s the result of the incubation stage working away. Many studies have found a link between this sort of seemingly idle behaviour and creative breakthroughs.
Here on North American soil, by contrast, particularly in big urban centers like Toronto and New York City, we elevate to-do lists and multi-tasking to an art form.
It’s quite common — and funny — to see Torontonians briskly walking city streets with a giant Tim Horton’s or Starbucks coffee in one hand and their mobile in the other with an almost frantic sense of urgency.
Photo: Café Sperl, Vienna – Kotomi_
It’s been exactly 2-years now since I left my full time agency position of 6-years to pursue independent contract work.
If you would have told me 2-years ago that I’d have worked with clients based in Egypt, Bermuda, New York, California, Vancouver, and the Cayman Islands, I would have laughed at you.
What a great ride it’s been so far.
Everyone should try freelancing at some point in their career, even if it’s only a brief stint. If anything else freelancing has taught me to be more entrepreneurial and get outside my comfort zone by taking on responsibilities beyond just being an art director or designer.
Reading Dustin Curtis’ post concerning the bad habits shared by some Y Combinator founders I immediately started thinking about the parallels to freelancing and why some people struggle with the concept of charting their own path:
They don’t realize how independent they can be. When you’re a child, your parents tell you what you’re supposed to do. Then, you’re in school, and you’re part of this institution that tells you what to do. Then, you go work for some company, and the company tells you what to do. So people come in like baby birds in the nest and open their mouths, as if they’re expecting us to drop food in. We have to tell them, “We’re not your bosses. You’re in charge now.” Some of them are freaked out by that. Some people are meant to be employees. Other people discover they have wings and start flapping them. There’s nothing like being thrown off a cliff to make you discover that you have wings.
My takeaway is that the freedom and diversity offered by the self directed variety of freelance work is perhaps too daunting a proposition for most people to swallow. Some people know exactly what to do while others just fizzle out.
Last week I read a great piece about the magic of doing one thing at a time by HBR blog contributor Tony Schwartz.
This morning a link to this same post appeared in my LinkedIn feed as I was doing a number of things simultaneously. In no particular order: responding to emails, checking Twitter, answering a few phone calls, making breakfast/getting my son ready for school, and writing out a few thoughts for this post.
Okay, maybe 4 or 5 things—but who’s counting?
Much has been written lately of the time suck of social media and the Web as a whole contributing to the fragmentation of our thoughts. Quick check: How many browser tabs do you have open at this very moment? Checking Facebook and responding to emails while on the on the phone? Many of us do this and whole lot more every day without even thinking twice.
Not surprisingly the Web is encouraging our brains to be less linear and more hyper-active/multitasking oriented. In fact you could liken our tendency to jump around from hyperlink to hyperlink, browser tab to tab, text message to email to Facebook and so on, as a form of self directed content filtering in which we’re mentally prioritizing and absorbing small chunks of information.
A recent post (definitely worth a read) written by Adi Gaskell touches on the subject of curation, which apparently was a wide topic of discussion at this year’s SXSW conference. But the notion of idea curation is particularly interesting. Adi suggests this is essentially how we process and filter our ideas so we reject the duffers and keep the winners.
In other words, idea curation could be seen as our brains unconsciously telling us where and when to focus our attention by filtering out what’s important and what should be deleted or sent to the trash bin.
So, as Adi suggests, here’s what we could try doing next as a technique for curating our ideas at any given moment:
“Take some time to towel off, maybe put the kettle on and take your mind off of your idea to let your mind mull it over in the background.”
- Take a break
- Do something you enjoy
- Come back to your idea in the cold light of day
(Photo by romanlily)