Written by: Clarissa Bock
Like Newton and the apple, or Archimedes and the bathtub, we love to hear stories about a Eureka moment—when inspiration strikes, and everything just seems to come together. But the question always remains: how do we get there? How do we get to this flash of inspiration?
Our brains have two modes: focus mode and diffuse mode. We most often think of focus mode. You’ve probably been there a few times today, most likely even as you are reading this post. When you have 12 emails sitting unread in your inbox, you have a coworker Slacking you about a project, and you’re also trying to finish up work to meet a deadline, you are in focus mode. During your typical workday, think about how much time you spend in focus mode. We are heads down all day, learning new things and trying to finish important tasks. So when we take a break to go for a walk or grab a coffee, we move into diffuse mode. We let our brains relax and wander to things other than work.
We know we can’t work at full speed for the whole day. We all have different times when we feel the most productive. But how often do we actually make time to nourish our brains and take a break? A growing number of studies show that taking regular breaks from our daily tasks can improve creativity. When we’re in diffuse mode, our brain solves the most difficult problems.
Have you ever noticed that you have some of your best ideas during your commute or in the shower? This is not a coincidence. Sometimes, taking a break can be the thing that allows you to work more efficiently.
A growing number of studies explore this idea. Journalist Manoush Zomorodi explains in her book Bored and Brilliant the importance of “doing nothing” in an “age of constant notification and digital distractions.” This book is a great read for understanding the science behind why we have our best ideas when our minds are wandering.
Here at FWI, we set aside time monthly to encourage employees to recharge through something we affectionately call “Analog Breaks.” Analog Breaks are semi-structured breaks designed to help us all get away from our computers, get together in person, and do something tactile or tangible that is completely unrelated to our day-to-day responsibilities. We’ve done everything from typography hunts in downtown Denver, to origami challenges, to cutting paper snowflakes, to learning how to draw a sloth together. This month, we set aside 30 minutes to embrace pencil and paper again. We each colored in separate puzzle-like pieces that we then put together to reveal a larger image.
Our Analog Breaks allow us to take some much-needed time away from technology and come together face-to-face. They give us permission to take a break and remind us how important those breaks are, both for camaraderie and for inspiration. Analog Breaks take us out of Focus Mode, and let us intentionally spend some time in Diffuse Mode.
These little breaks help us avoid burning out. They fuel us and give us inspiration. They let our ideas marinate and mix to create truly great work.
Feel free to steal and adapt the idea of Analog Breaks for yourself or your organization! Give it a try. Next time you’re stumped, take some time away from the hustle. Impose a self-break, whether that’s doing something analog, taking a walk or simply chatting with a coworker. In order to stay creative and generate innovative ideas, your brain needs downtime. So be generous, give it some.