How often is it that genius strikes while you’re sitting at a desk between the working hours of nine to five?
It’s impossible to really know, but social scientists might argue that it’s pretty rare. In fact, some of the most celebrated creative “geniuses” of all time (like Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Sigmund Freud, and Frank Lloyd Wright) were known for their unusual rituals and routines. Apple founder Steve Jobs rarely had the kind of workday we find “normal”: heading to the office in the morning, grinding for 8 hours straight, and rushing home for dinner.
His workflow was far more fluid—more walking meetings, brainstorm sessions, and family time. And Jobs’ unusual schedule might have been at least part of the reason for his success. Research says that we’re more productive when we’re more open-minded. Long vacation breaks from work reboot our creative energies and problem-solving skills. Working from home, where we aren’t restricted to the timetables of others (or forced to wear pants), can be more efficient than heading into the office. And the formula for ultimate productivity encourages healthy doses of non-work thinking: grind at a task for 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break.
The commonality between these three activities? They encourage flexible thinking. People who can find alternative solutions and disrupt the standard way of going about things are often the ones who make the biggest breakthroughs in business, art, and life.
According to author and business coach Courtney Romano, everyone needs to find time to get into their most open headspace simply to live better: “I don't think it’s reserved for the chosen few. [When we’re able to be creative], we feel aligned. We feel more energetic, open and happy.” Romano believes that regardless of your profession, regularly tapping into your creativity, “whether you're a professional writer or a weeknight chef, puts a premium on your well-being.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’re busy. After days—or even months—in which back-to-back meetings fill the calendar and breaks just don’t happen, it’s easy to find yourself staring at a blinking cursor, confronted by a creative wall. It happens to the best of us, whether we’re filling in a budget spreadsheet, brainstorming a new marketing campaign, or just trying to come up with a week’s worth of meals without falling back on the usual chicken-and-rice combo. It’s in these “stuck” moments that getting in touch with your creative side can be really transformative—and the results just might surprise you.
When back-to-back meetings fill the calendar and breaks just don’t happen, it's easy to find yourself staring at a blinking cursor, confronted by a creative wall
Next time the well runs dry, encourage a flood of inspiration by trying something new. It’s surprisingly easy to do—a shift of perspective will do the trick. Try some of Romano’s suggestions below. Different actions inspire people in different ways. Remember to stay open, and let it happen—trying to force creativity tends to have the opposite effect.
1. Lie down and take 10 slow deep breaths.
Sometimes you need to literally change the way you see things. You don’t necessarily have to lie down under your desk, but “shifting your body shifts your perspective,” says Romano. Take a quick jaunt to a nearby park or outdoor space and make yourself comfy on a bench, if there isn’t room in your office. If you’re not into meditation or just haven’t gotten around to trying it yet, this exercise is a good first step.
2. Take a walk.
A 2014 Stanford study found that the time during and shortly after a walk is when people feel most creative—almost 60 percent more so than when sitting at a desk. If a treadmill desk is out of the question, try penciling in a few walking meetings. If you get a raised eyebrow, just remind your coworkers that Steve Jobs relied on them daily to get things done.
3. Have a good laugh.
Anxiety is the enemy of creativity—it paralyzes our thought process. Maybe that’s why genuine laughter seems to encourage more aha moments. “Laughter lights up all parts of your brain to work together—not just the one area where you’re stuck while trying to solve a creative problem,” says Romano. Yes, we’re encouraging the use of silly memes throughout the workday to increase productivity and happiness. (Just don’t spend too long on Buzzfeed—that kind of defeats the purpose!)
One final note: This advice applies to everyone, even those who don’t consider themselves creative. You don’t need to be writing the next great American novel to benefit from creativity. Harnessing it will improve problem-solving skills in everyday life, relationships with friends and family, and offer a bit of stress relief. So, what’ve you got to lose?
Photo credit: Alicia Cho, Jamie Levine