A few weeks ago, an intriguing New York Times blog post started making the rounds on my Twitter feed, and it's still popping up today. I can see why. Dubbed "The Busy Trap," Tim Kreider's article makes a simple claim:
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
It was eye-opening for me that my social circle consists mostly of Type A personalities, as I could feel a collective sigh from the artists, designers and writers in my feed who recognized themselves all too well in this story. In an economy like ours, and as designers throw themselves wholeheartedly into using their skills to address social issues, it can be hard to contemplate idleness. But as the article makes clear, taking time out is often the best thing you can do for your creativity.
Another recent article in NPR said as much, drawing on the famous example of Archimedes in the bathtub:
As the ancient Greek engineer Vetruvius told us, Archimedes was lounging in a public bath when he noticed the water level go up and down as people got in and out. He suddenly realized that water could help him calculate the density of gold. "This alteration [of thoughts] may be very useful for churning the creative process," says Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Easier said than done, of course, in a world that seems caught up and defined by deadlines, bills and the the relentless pace of social media and globalized communications. But almost every great designer I've met has preached to me the value of taking some time out and just... being. It's good for the mind, but it also means better ideas. And it seems that the more you can carve out for idle time, the more that will reap rewards in creativity.