A very perceptive lady once told me, at a difficult time in my life, “If things aren’t going the way you want them to, change something.” It sounds obvious, but those words stuck with me – the key point being that I needed to change something, not just mope around hoping something would change.
I recently had, thanks to that wedding and a few bank holidays, an 11 day break from work. It was great to stop and relax for a while, but I hadn’t properly planned for it work-wise. Although I was able to keep my customers happy, I still ended up with a mountain of overdue tasks. Worse still, I felt unable to tackle the mountain and completely lacking in inspiration and drive, despite being in the most rewarding and exciting time ever in my career.
Those words, spoken around 8 years ago, came to mind and chimed with a book I recently read, :59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman. The book details various scientific studies into how people work, with results that are surprising and simple to act upon, including some on enhancing the creative part of the brain. It boiled down to the need to re-focus the mind, distracting the conscious mind and allowing it to chip away at problems subconsciously. This relates well to another part regarding habits, which talks about the need to ‘re-write’ the well-worn and comfortable paths your thoughts take by changing some small aspect of what you’re doing.
I decided to try something very simple; to literally just “do something different.” Anything to push me out of the daily, weekly and monthly habits and routines that I realised were stopping me from getting things done. I’m sure you know the kind of habits I’m talking about – checking email every few minutes, flicking on to your favourite news or social website, chain-drinking tea or coffee; I’m sure you also know that these habits and routines can be deceptively time-consuming because your mind is constantly switching between contexts, which takes a few minutes.
I’m useless at breaking habits by will-power alone, so I reasoned that even if my ‘do something different’ was completely unrelated to the tasks I wanted to do, it would still have a positive impact on my productivity and creativity.
I set about making a list of ‘different’ things that I could do – some for a day, week or month, some one-off. Here are a few of the items:
- Go for a walk in the evening instead of whiling away the night in front of mindless TV
- Play a board game with the family
- Watch a film (something I very rarely do)
- Eat only fruit all day (yes, I have odd eating habits)
- Run 2 miles every morning for 2 weeks (I’d been doing just 1 mile)
- Go completely offline for 4 hours and plan out the next few years
- Learn to cook a proper meal (a shamefully rare occurence)
- Learn some basic Chinese
- Learn some new songs on piano
I’ve ticked off a couple of those already, and can (unscientifically) say that it’s improved my creativity and productivity dramatically. I still ‘fall off the wagon’ and have slow days, but if I realise that’s happening I try to stop and change the scenery or take a short break. However, I’ve started and in some cases finished a few jobs that I was struggling with, kick-started one of my sidelines after it had fallen by the wayside a bit, and even done some of those 5-minute jobs that I’d been putting off for months.
Go and do something completely different for a short while, then get back to that to-do list with a fresh mind. Tweet me @johnorourke if you did something wierd or interesting.