Ever have great marketing ideas just before you go to sleep? Or come up with your best digital marketing plan in the shower? You’re not the only one. Even in our agency, art directors see fantastic designs in their dreams and writers find their muse outside the walls of the office.
In fact, science has shown that when you’re stuck on a project, often what you need to finally get that big breakthrough is to walk away for a bit.
Facts About Aha! Moments!
Everyone likes to think they’re so busy. We slug back caffeine and try to stay focused. We put in long hours on campaigns, because we think that if we stick with it, eventually we’ll come up with the perfect combination of ideas, words and images to sell our products. But in reality, we all need time to let our brains wander and rest in order to work most effectively and creatively.
Studies have shown that being able to spread your attention over a wider range of matters opens your mind to more possibilities and thus more creative thoughts. Daydreaming, listening to music, taking a walk, reading, talking with friends — all of these give your brain a break from the strict pattern you force it into when you try to focus on one task for a long period of time without a break.
Throughout history, we’ve seen examples of how taking a break really works. This NY Times blog captures it best:
“Archimedes’ ‘Eureka’ in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: History is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hard working.”
How Long Should I Break?
Are we talking minutes? Hours? Days? That all depends on the project, person, place of employment and allowed time off.
When you’re feeling completely burned out, take a vacation. Even if you can’t afford to travel, take a few days to get out of the office or away from your desk. Focus on things that interest you outside of work. Take in an art exhibit, go to a concert, hike around a local park. Let your brain rest, wander and think about whatever it what it wants.
When you come back to work and start that big project, you’ll feel more inspired. Your goals will seem clearer. Your imagination will be revved up and open to new ideas. After spending fall break with my kids, I was definitely ready to get back to my writing. I’d taken a few days to see the world through the eyes of my children, and I took that experience and used it to write better social media posts for a client.
Small breaks throughout your day can also help, though. Get up from your desk and stretch. Take a walk around. Talk to a coworker about a celebrity gossip. Watch a short video. Anytime you give your brain respite from intense focus you’ll feel more refreshed. A 15 minute break twice a day can do wonders for your productivity.
I make sure to get outside of the building at least three days per week during lunch. Sometimes I go to a park and walk or stop by a local store for fresh iced tea. Being around random people and a new environment lets my brain forget the problems I was having with a writing task. I never know where a new idea will come from, either. Maybe a street sign, restaurant menu, magazine covers in the store or a song on the radio will give me the inspiration I need to knock out that ad headline. Give it a try.