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Melani Ward Headshot

Creativity: Give Your Mind Some Mischief

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Google is ahead of the curve in many areas but one of their best practices by far is giving their engineers the freedom to spend 20% of their work hours doing whatever they want. For some this means surfing the web, for some it means more time on their bike and for others it's simply taking a nap under a tree.

Why do they do this? For 2 reasons: 1) Research from the National Academy of Sciences shows that giving your mind a break every now and then - shifting it away from being constantly focused on important matters - may be one of the best ways to clear the space for more insights, ideas, and solutions. And 2) It works.

The engineers at Google can count many company and personal successes that have come out of this down time. And they certainly aren't the only ones who know how powerful it can be to simply daydream, stare out the window and stretch your creative wings. Just look at your kids. Kids are masters of not over-thinking or making everything so urgent and so difficult. Think about how much they absorb and learn in a given day.

Still, somewhere along the way, ahem....school, we were taught to put the lid on daydreaming and that play and work are mutually exclusive pursuits. Not so. In fact, most of my clients agree that their best work is done while they are running or hiking or practicing yoga or rock climbing. Implementation may happen at your desk or on the phone but most of the entrepreneurs I know wouldn't even have a business if it wasn't for the "monkeying around" they put into their schedule every single day.

When we are willing to be engaged in pursuits that would likely fall low on the productivity scale, we are not shirking our work but rather allowing ourselves to be happier, think more creatively and clearly and produce the kinds of products, books and programs that our clients want.

Ernest Rossi, psychobiology researcher and a leading expert on ultradian rhythms and how they affect human biology suggests taking a 20 minute break whenever you are focused on something and you start to feel your energy dip or your mood drop. He says that taking a break will allow your body to use this downtime to clear away metabolic wastes and replenish energetic stores lost during heavy bouts of concentration. It will also allow you to reclaim peak energy and effectiveness levels. Then you can go back to what you were doing and start the cycle again. If you fail to take the breaks however, it's going to back up on you eventually and likely limit your creativity.

Our tendency as humans who are intent on driving further and further ahead is to override the feelings or nudges we have to take a break because we are on a roll or we simply must "get it done now" but the fact is, if we want to make the best of our brains' and our bodies' natural patterns, we need to listen to those feelings.

So what kind of breaks did you take today? Are you taking 20% of your time each day to simply daydream, play, doodle, and let your mind get into a little bit o' mischief? If you are, that's fabulous. If not, try it out and see what happens. You may just find that the thing you've wanted to do but you thought was too hard or you weren't sure how to execute, finally drops in on you and it gets done faster and easier than you could have ever predicted.