Be Creative. Take a Break.

Joe had a problem. He had cashed in some investments and quit his job to create a new product. Only it didn’t work yet. The technology was ground breaking, but they needed a ridiculously simple communication tool to make it usable. So he went to the beach.

As he sat relaxing in the sun, combing his fingers through the sand, he recalled using Morse code in the army. Dot, dot, dash, he drew lines down in the sand from each. The light bulb came on. Instead of dots and dashes, different widths of lines could represent numbers. In that moment N. Joseph Woodland created bar codes.

Innovation and creativity are coveted commodities in this global and instantaneous economy, but how do we have more of those moments of insight? They seem to come at the oddest times, as we are about to drift off to sleep, in the shower, during a walk in the woods, or on the beach.

1. Relaxing actually does allow you to be more creative. By setting aside the problem and doing unrelated activities we give our subconscious an opportunity to work on problems. One group of researchers at Drexel University found that they could anticipate by as much as 8 seconds who would have a moment of insight. It was based on their levels of alpha waves which are closely related to relaxation. Yes, there is a case to be made for the Foosball table in the lunch room.

2. From Aristotle to Thoreau, many through the ages have believed that taking a walk can boost your creativity. A recent study at Stanford University found that walking, indoors or outdoors, can enhance your creativity by as much as 60%.

3. Many report that simply being in nature can put your brain into the “default network” where creativity is thought to take place. Researcher, David Strayer of the University of Utah, believes that being in green space allows your brain to take a break from intense cognitive function and provides “attention restoration.”

4. Exposing yourself to a diversity of ideas and experiences gives you more experiences to draw from. For creativity to happen we must have either completely new inputs, or connect two inputs that were never combined before. So go to a museum, try a new route to work, experience a different culture, learn sign language or begin playing a musical instrument.

So much of our work requires focused concentration. Pivoting to a different mode of thinking can revive your sense of well-being AND provide meaningful business contributions. Sometimes the most productive thing to do is to take a break.

Find the Sweet Spot of Productivity: The Pivot


Mark had it all. He had an executive suite with a beautiful view in a Fortune 500 company. He was leading a first-class team on a product that was in the news and key to the success or the organization. So when he brought me in to help him be more productive, I was a bit confused. On the surface all appeared to be running smoothly.

Picture a duck, he explained, a duck floating peacefully on a calm lake with barely a ripple in the water. That’s me, Mark said, but you can’t see that just below the surface I am frantically paddling as fast as I can and not moving very far.

There are a lot of Mark’s. To get meaningful work done in today’s business climate requires two primary skills, the ability to work fast and to work focused. The problem lies in believing we can be both at the same time. The sweet spot lies in the skillful pivot between the two, or WorkAgility™.

Daniel Kahneman, the only psychologist to ever win the Nobel Prize in Economics, called it “Thinking fast and Slow” and wrote a book by that name. Others think of it as the difference between a deep-dive and a scan of a large surface area. I think of it as fast v. focused.

Fast keeps you connected, interacting, exchanging smaller bits of information. You are plugged in and responsive. Focused is the meaningful, thoughtful work that will impact your profitability and promotability. It requires your undivided attention.

The most effective use of our brain is to clearly delineate between the two. Carving out “focus time” can be difficult, but essential to your success. Even small blocks of focused concentration can make a huge difference in your productivity. Aim for about 90 minutes before a break and resist the lure of your smartphone-world when it’s time to be focused.

Ideally, get your team on the same page and agree to work uninterrupted for a consistent period of time of the day. Internal interruptions are much more common than external pulls for your attention. Yes, this is a culture shift and yes, there will be emergencies that can’t wait for an hour. But you will be amazed at the productivity shift of a team that will leave each other alone for part of each day.

Developing the pivot between fast and focused is an essential building block to WorkAgility™ and a key component of finding more time for life by getting more done.

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