What creativity, productivity, and sustainability all have in common is that rhythm and balance are essential to each of them. Introducing rhythm and balance into your working habits will boost each of these in a significant way. Let me explain:
The latest brain science has shown that although creativity is still somewhat mysterious, you can definitely improve your creativity by using your brain in the manner allows it to function at its best. You can do that by honoring the brain’s creative cycle. As it turns out, that does not involve multitasking marathons.
The creative cycle is essentially based on creating a rhythm between right and left-brain, as well as creating a balance between intense focus and relaxing, restorative practices. That means working in short, focused sprints of 90-120 minutes, followed by short breaks of 10-30 minutes to allow the brain to rest, process, and create. Those “rest” periods are when the sub-conscious performs its mysterious processing and makes creative connections. Those rest periods are when the “aha!” moments are most likely to occur. For example, a recent Stanford study found that participants generated 60% more ideas while taking walking breaks compared to those who remained sitting at their desks!
Your energy level and ability to focus (and thus your productivity) fluctuates with the same cycles that govern your sleep during the night – cycles of approximately 90-120 minutes. Key signs that you are in the down side of that energy cycle? Your focus wanes and you start thinking of snacks and checking out a few cute cat videos. If you fight this energy cycle by working in long marathons, you get successively diminishing and distracted returns.
By working in short, intense, focused sprints that are followed by a break, you instead optimize your energy. Your mind/body likes this cycle and releases a burst of Nitric Oxide once you stop. That makes you feel good and makes you want to repeat the cycle again. Establishing a rhythm of short, focused sprints separated by energizing, restorative breaks, will maximize your energy and productivity.
The work culture that has developed in the modern world is not healthy or sustainable (generally speaking). I base that statement on years of personal experience, many interviews with managers and execs, as well as mountains of current research. Our modern work culture is stressful, emphasizes quantity over quality, and gives lip-service to work-life balance while making it all but impossible to achieve. It is a key driver of attrition, sick leave, burnout and disengagement.
However, the same rhythm and balance that maximizes your energy, productivity, and creativity will also help to keep you fresh, healthy, and motivated (that is why “energy management” skills are a key component of nearly all my programs). This fact has been understood by previous generations (you know, the ones without smartphones), but lost in our cultural emphasis on short-term goals and profits.
Da Vinci, Mozart and many others have understood that most often, the breakthroughs come not while slaving away, but when they had taken time to step back, restore themselves and regenerate their energy. Practicing this kind of rhythm and balance, will keep you healthy, sane, motivated, fresh, creative and energized.
So how do you keep yourself energized, productive, and creative? Would love to hear your thoughts!