Looking Back, Moving Forward
When you work in the agency world, it’s easy to get swept up into the daily churn of hitting deadlines and checking boxes. Usually, we chalk this up to the unavoidable pace of #AgencyLife.
But there are benefits to slowing down, unplugging, and just thinking. Both for your work and your personal self.
So put on your thinking cap, and consider the following.
The creative process is iterative. Even when the end result seems brilliantly simple, the route to finding it is rarely so. It takes time.
It took J.R.R. Tolkien more than a decade to write Lord of the Rings. Darwin published Origin of Species 25 years after first setting sail for the Galapagos Islands. Even with modern technology, the number of shoot days required to amass footage for Planet Earth II adds up to almost 6 years back-to-back. “Genius” is often how history remembers people who dedicate incredible time to creating art or solving problems.
Our jobs rarely, if unfortunately, involve inventing elven languages or revealing the mysteries of life. They do, however, require creative energy and, importantly, time to consider problems, spark ideas, and refine concepts.
In our personal lives and passions, the constraints are different — family, errands, a social life — but the problem is the same. If you’re trying to create something new and different or solve a problem, whether it’s writing a novel or just trying to articulate your own opinion on an understated movie, your first thought or idea is rarely your best.
This one is more difficult. We are creatives. We can’t plan our days and hours based on Excel cells or words-typed-per-minute. When you’re in the weeds everyday, it’s easy to see that, more often than not, the time put into a project correlates with the quality of the end result. For people on the outside, it’s not always the same.
Many people may not see the process that goes into developing ideas behind the scenes. For example, when we let 2–3 of our ideas see the light of day, there are plenty of others left in the dark.
Being able to communicate and show the value of your process is just part of being a professional, creative person.
This is where the “scheduling” part comes in. Easier said than done, right? It is possible! There are ways to take back the minutes of your day and piece together some quality think time, and most really aren’t that tough. Here are just a few.
Set aside your phone, inbox, Slack, all of it. We touch our phones upwards of 2,000 times per day. While these things are great and necessary for communicating, when it comes to deep thinking, they are a distraction. They can be a crutch. Often, we reach for them as a knee jerk reaction to any unfilled moment. Instead, use that space for thought.
You might experience some withdrawal at first, but you’ll quickly find that unplugging can revitalize the part of your mind responsible for your most imaginative and probing thoughts.
Creativity can’t exist in a vacuum. Even the most brilliant creators need inspiration. Find a great podcast. Read. (Side note: I’m going to use this opportunity to plug “books” in general. More than a quarter of Americans didn’t read (or listen to) a book — or even part of a book — last year.) Nerd out with your offbeat passions, even if they seem disconnected from your day-to-day tasks. It’s amazing where ideas can intersect and inspiration can begin.
This one, admittedly, is the hardest for most people. Establishing any good habit is difficult, but when the habit is “make time for (blank),” it’s immediately in competition with a hundred other guilt-ridden things — friends, yoga, reading (see above), etc. Fifteen minutes each day is a good place to start.
At different times, “just thinking” might leave you feeling elated, confident, understanding, maybe even devastated (eek). No matter the immediate outcome, setting aside time to think will make you feel like a fuller person with fuller ideas.
Who knew that shutting yourself away could be such a freeing experience?