Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think that the idea of taking time off to increase productivity is a novel one, that is to say I’m not taking credit for some original idea. Many of the articles and studies found online relate the relationship between taking time off work, taking more vacations, and taking longer breaks during the work week, to its effects on corporate American type jobs. Studies show time and time again how other countries, particularly in countries like Germany, France, and the Netherlands, work far less hours per week and take more vacation days per year, but still manage to be “harder working” countries. But for the creative minded entrepreneur, the rules of scheduling, weekly hours, and general productivity seem a bit different.
Many of us start off in endeavors that we have a strong passion for, an art like photography, that we love and seek a way to monetize. But for those who survive the first few years of self-employment we find that success comes with an insatiable work ethic with task after task that has little to do with our creative art. Marketing, branding, client relationships, web content, etc. take hours from our work week and many of the successful creative work rigorously all hours of the night and day as we grind our way up the mountain of potential success. That is to say most successful creative work tirelessly and never really have a day off. We then are expected to show up on our shoot days (for us photographers) on a weekend day no less and create “art” be at our most creative and create our best work that will propel us to the next level. It’s something we all do, but it’s a difficult pace to continue. Furthermore, the insatiable desire to climb up the ladder makes the idea of dropping everything to simply take time off a counter-intuitive one.
Let’s take a second and think of our brain as a muscle, a bicep if you will (although it isn’t technically a muscle it actually behaves very much like one). If you don’t train your bicep, go to the gym lift weights, it won’t get stronger. In fact, if it’s already trained up and strong, it will get weaker. On the other hand, if you go to the gym and attempt to do a 1000 reps in one day you’ll quickly feel fatigue set in and your muscle’s will fail to fire. On the same vein, you go to the gym three times a day or even every day and work out the same muscle you will not notice great results, but go and train a bit, take a couple of days off, and get back at it again and you will notice positive results. Your brain, just like your bicep, can fatigue. Extended activity for somewhere in the two to three-hour range, causes your brain to decrease in its ability to focus and stay on task. Similarly, whittling away at a task everyday for weeks or years on end, limit your ability to replenish, heal, and get stronger. In short, you loose the ability the think and perform at your most creative. It doesn’t mean you can’t continue and get the job done, but it does mean that next great idea or next bought of inspiration that will propel you to the next level, may not come.
I recently returned from a trip to the Rio Olympic games, it would be a rare break from my routine. I, as one would expect, ignored the opportunity to take a break and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, and quickly tried to plan as many shoots and work related opportunities. My rationale was, I’m in this iconic gorgeous location, imagine the amazing photos I can take and how then can help me market my business. I went out on a 9-day trip planning to shoot about 3 or 4 times, I didn’t have any plans 100 percent set though due to working from abroad and the language barrier. I also had a photography course I was teaching at the time and had recorded lectures and had every intention of fully interacting with my students as if it were a normal week of class. Sounds like a nice easy relaxing trip right? Well something amazing happened, literally the first night I was there.
While cheering on Kerri Walsh during the women’s quarter final beach volleyball match, I lost my cell phone. It was impossible to get a phone shipped out to me so I decided I would have to get by with a burner phone for the rest of the trip. But, after a couple of days of not being able to immediately answer every work e-mail and inquiry, I realized how much stress was taken off my shoulders and decided to simply not get a phone at all. Not having my phone also made it near impossible to finalize any plans on shoots, that and the language barrier. Now, I must admit I was still checking my laptop once a day back at the hotel, but I truly believe the missing phone was a blessing. I still brought my Contax 645 out a couple of times to take some landscape shots, but I was able to relax and actually take some time off.
Within a week of being home, without any intention of doing so, I somewhat randomly found myself very inspired to take my work to another creative place, I’ve arranged a handful of personal projects and changed the way I approach my weddings too, I highly credit that lost cell phone.
I hope you take my winding anecdote as reenforcement that for us creative we have to take time away. It’s just how our brains work. It’s one thing to same taking a vacation will increase how productive you can be for the company you work for, it’s entirely different when our entire product, our creative spark, and our art depends on our creative motivation. Us left-side-brainers interact with the world just a little bit differently then our counterparts and I want to challenge you to take time off. If you are super hesitant, then my challenge to you would be to a take one day OFF. I mean no phone, no computer, no nothing, go to your favorite coffee shop without your laptop, have a cup of coffee and just sit there, then go to the park and do nothing, just sit, just walk. Take the whole day and see if you don’t have some sort of un-huh moment or some spark of creativity.
Trust me, you’ll appreciate, and benefit from, it.