When you work on something you care about, it's difficult to let yourself take breaks. There's always more to do and never enough time to do it. Luckily, longer hours aren't the only path to success. Instead, leaving your work to find inspiration elsewhere could accelerate your progress.
Inspiration isn't just for spiritual elite. New research suggests that getting inspired is something that all of us can attain simply by keeping ourselves open to new experiences. Once we are inspired, we are more involved with our work and achieve more goals.
I currently work at a global design company called IDEO, where leaving the office to find inspiration is foundational to our creative process. It can be daunting at first, but becomes natural with practice.
Last year, I was staffed on a project aimed at helping people manage large credit card balances. Here are 3 steps we took to find inspiration:
1. Embrace Serendipity
After a week of research in Chicago, my team was overloaded with information and unable to think clearly about next steps. One person suggested, "How about we start by taking a break?" It sounds like a joke, but moments later, two teammates and I were on our way to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. Liberating ourselves lightened the mental load, so we could think more freely.
Whether it's for brief moments throughout your week or longer excursions each month, occasionally flex your schedule in favor of spontaneity. Some of the best inspiration hits when you're not expecting it.
2. Do Things You Like
When I entered the 45,000 square-foot museum, I was invigorated. To make the most of my experience, I asked a docent to circle "must-sees" on my map. Two hours later, I left the museum stimulated and ready to get back to work. If I weren't an art-enthusiast, the museum would have drained my energy. In fact, members of my team who weren't interested in the museum chose to go to a park instead.
The key here is to choose any activity or destination that you will enjoy. Anything can be inspiring, so long as it immerses you.
3. Don't Force It
Our team respected the break when we split up. We didn't expect anyone to return with inspired revelations. Keeping things low-pressure meant our minds could wander while we did. As a result, our inspiring break from work also inspired our work: We realized that navigating the museum was a lot like navigating credit card debt -- both intimidating and massive -- and brainstormed ideas around financial navigation tools. In the end, we designed a product that was simple and approachable for credit card holders, the same way a museum map helps museum-goers.
It's easier to find inspiration when you don't push yourself to do so. Treat your break as sacred, and reflect afterward on how the experience inspired you.
Inspiration doesn't always strike, but by being spontaneous, taking enjoyable breaks, and relaxing your expectations, you'll increase your chances of finding it. If you're like me, you'll find that the best breakthroughs happen when you take a break from your work.