I have a theory. Since I will probably never have the resources to try to prove it, the next best thing is to share it with readers and see what type of feedback I get. My theory is this: There is a direct relationship between your maximum creative output and the amount and quality of time you spend doing non-work activities.
The idea is that you will never reach your full potential for efficiency and productivity without significant investments in non-work, fun activities. If all your time is spent working, you will accomplish less than if you leave some time to relax and pursue recreational activities. I think this only holds true for creative-type work. If you are simply counting pebbles every day, I don’t know that spending the weekend water-skiing will make a noticeable improvement in your counting skills.
However, if your job involves coming up with ideas, finding patterns, or pretty much any work that is thought-based, your productivity will be somehow tied to your leisure activities. What do you think? Can you reach your peak productivity without spending time on leisure?
Originally published December 28, 2006.
Michael Sampson says
Mark, great observation. Do you count “thinking time” as leisure or work time?
It depends on what I’m thinking about. :) Most of my work involves hours of thinking followed by a few minutes of action, so I would tend to consider thinking about work part of work itself.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not very good at taking the time to relax. I tend to work way too many hours and in the end I think my productivity suffers. I’m trying to get better at relaxing. This week I sat down and read a novel just for fun. I hadn’t done that for a long time. After taking a break and reading something just for enjoyment, I seem to have more creative ideas for my work.
Rich G. says
I know I’m better for myself, my company, and my employees during hockey season when I get to go to hockey games a couple times a month and just get completely away from work. Geocaching, motorcycling, anything that isn’t at the house or driving where I can brood or obsess about a work problem.
I find my mind is refreshed for having been off-task for a while, it breaks me out of the circular thinking I can get trapped in when all I look at is the problem I’m working on or situation I’m dealing with.
Down time makes for better up time.
i think its a well researched fact that a lot of creative ideas get generated in the subconscious and especially when the mind is calm and clear of disturbance (remember archimedes’ eureka moment?). i have personally experienced more creativity when my mind was calmer than normal. and one way is to do things that you really like as recreational stuff – painting, photography etc
about the part of ‘counting pebbles’ – i think even if its a mechanical job – creativity could help do the job faster and maybe better. it could help create a tool to automate the counting! :).
there is one saying which we refering to in most of our KM presentations – something about stopping for fuel to enable going longer distances.
Srini, good point about the “counting pebbles” still being improved. Sometimes the most mundane jobs are the ones that can benefit the most from creativity.
Oh god, if you’re ‘counting pebbles’ you *definately* need to play, just to still be a human being. Otherwise, you get to a point where you’re counting pebbles in your work, counting pebbles in your sleep, and feeling like you’re losing your brain, and any social contact you might have, because all you can talk about is… counting pebbles.
And I mean all sorts of menial tasks for this. McDonalds fry cook, office admin, etc etc et.
Positively Present says
I think leisure is very important. I don’t think you can be nearly as productive without taking some time to relax and unwind and have fun. Though I often have to force myself to do things that aren’t “productive,” I gain a lot from spending time playing and taking a break from work, blogging, and other productive activities.
Dianne Murphy-Rodgers says
I think relaxation and play are essential for so many reasons! They recharge my batteries, revitalise my spirits, keep me young, fuel my imagination and creativity, and probably make me a nicer person to be around!
Great food for thought, Mark, thank you! And great comments too …
Rich G. “Down time makes for better up time” is brillant!
Srini, I love your idea of creating a pebble-counter!
Dream Mom says
I might also add that you need sleep. When I first started blogging a few years back, I would write stories about my disabled child. I wrote my best stories when I was fully rested. I could never be creative and write well when I was up all night taking care of him. On the flip side, I could never write stories when I wasn’t relaxed, wasn’t rested or didn’t have some down time.
I think everyone needs to get out and have some fun, even pebble counters!
Cody Dream-Life-Coaching says
I agree completely, if I am really struggling with something I will leave it, sometimes for a month, when I come back I have a completely new perspective. God himself took a day of rest don’t forget!!
Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
Since getting a puppy, I’ve discovered the value of dividing my time into “working” and “non-working/puppy watching.” You definitely can’t blur the two; your work will suffer and so will some innocent piece of furniture!
Larry Shead says
God had the idea of taking a day of rest from labor. We should, also.
I totally agree with you. If you are getting involved too much in the work related activities and you loose ( or don’t even manage to create) a personal life – the job will be affected as well – long term.
So, take quality time for yourself, and everything will be beautiful
Thats true for all kinds of work, even if your counting pebbles, you will make mistakes, when you are burned out.
Stephen Covey called this “sharpening the saw”. This invsted time, will be pay off soon.
This idea is explored in the book “The Now Habit”. Its a book about overcoming procrastination. The idea is that as you play you subconsciously solve problems. This makes you more productive when you go back to work. Also, knowing that you have something fun to do later gives you motivation & incentive to get your work done faster. You don’t procrastinate because you know there is reward to getting it done now.