Make Idle Time

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

The most important thing I noticed today was that only in stillness can we recognize movement.Marina Abramović

There is no universal creative process. But any creative process will involve various periods of incubation, or time spent not consciously thinking about the problem. You have likely experienced this phenomenon yourself when after hours at work spent agonizing over a problem, the solution pops into your head when you get home and take the dog for a walk. This is also known as The Shower Principle—ideas come to you when you’re doing something else, like taking a shower, doing the dishes, or working on another problem entirely.

As it turns out, even if you’re not concentrating on something or keeping busy, a different part of your brain activates and processes your thoughts. If you’re interested in the neuroscience at work here, I suggest reading Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s Rest.

Practically speaking, we can’t actually make ourselves process things or produce creatively faster. In fact, it’s only when we allow our mind some peace and quiet that it can relax, and produce the ideas we so desire. But don’t cover your mind in Netflix or podcasts—reject media’s influence and let your brain settle down. Take a bath or long shower. Try meditating with or without an app. Go for a trail walk or bike ride. Let rest and distraction become part of your creative process.

Or flip this prompt: Do Your Work without Your Equipment

Make Time to Play

“Without play, only Shit Happens. With play, Serendipity Happens,” wrote David Weinberger in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

“Work which remains permeated with the play attitude is art,” wrote philosopher John Dewey.

The difference between work and play is largely intention. Play is intended for amusement, joy, and perhaps mastery, with the main intention being to continue to play. Work is intended for results, benefit, and sustenance, with the main intention being to continue to survive or provide for yourself.

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