Has anyone else been reading the "Your Brain on Computers" series running in the New York Times this month? Each article I read feels like it's speaking directly to me, although I'm sure I'm not alone.
I spent last weekend on Long Beach Island, NJ, where I surfed, ran on the beach, did outdoor yoga, and skipped like a little kid from rock to rock on a jetty at the island's tip. Heaven! Before that, I'd taken a week's vacation to drive across the country, where I experienced the American southwest for the first time in my life.
Upon my return to the office last Monday, I was greeted with a major case of post-vacation work paralysis. Staring blankly at my computer screen, the only thing I could focus on was the NYT's headline about how our brains work better when exposed to nature, rather than when in front of, yes, a computer screen. No arguments here.
Luckily -- I do love my job -- I was able to escape Tuesday morning for a three-day work-related trip to Boulder, CO. I did work at night, but my days were full of gorgeous hikes, drives through the mountains, and farm-fresh produce (not to mention actual farms) at every turn.
This time when I got back to the office, I was given an assignment -- one of those come-up-with-a-new-great-idea creative assignments where the sky's the limit. The kind that, as an assistant and a junior editor I used to crave, anixious to show off my brainpower. The kind that recently, I've been dreading.
The Dreaded Brainstorm
I admit it: For the last year or so, I've become the type of person who avoids "brainstorming" exercises and hates to be put on the spot when it comes to new ideas. I feel burnt out. I tell people that I don't have the time or energy. Truthfully, I'm worried that I'm losing my creative drive.
So yesterday, I was amused to see another article in this same NYT series, this one about how spending too much time in front of digital devices could actually be harming the brain's ability to learn, to form new ideas, to be creative.
But it's not just time in the office, the experts say. What may actually be more detrimental are the shorter periods of time -- the two- or three-minutes that we spend between activities, checking email, making phone calls, or updating Facebook to avoid being bored or wasting time. All things of which I'm supremely guilty.
Then (as if I needed more advice on the subject) I came across Frances Lefkowitz's story, "The Perfect Brainstorm," while publishing Whole Living's July/August content online. In this article -- along with six other tips for "tapping your inner genius" -- psychotherapist and fellow WL Daily blogger Eric Maisel also suggests making better use of those two- or three-minute chunks "as you stand in line at the bank, shop for groceries, or get your nails done."
Dedicate this time to feeding that big idea, he says. Instead of updating your calendar and playing with your smartphone, carry a notebook or mini tape recorder, or email yourself thoughts as they come to you.
Spending My Free Time More Freely
So maybe that's it -- maybe in my quest to be the most efficient, up-to-date, and productive person I can be, I'm sacrificing creativity. I'm not giving my brain the time off (really off) it needs to let any shreds of ideas I might have really sink in, ruminate, and grow into something real.
Hopefully, I can take this advice to heart. I'm using all of the nature I've experienced lately as my inspiration -- another tip from Maisel -- and have adorned my computer desktop with the photos above. And the next time I find myself with some mentally free time, starting with tonight's run, I'm going to ditch my phone and my iPod. Wishful thinking: Who knows when my next great idea will strike!
Do you devote time to brainstorming and being creative, or does it just happen for you,when you least expect it? What types of places or things help you do your best thinking?
Amanda MacMillan is Whole Living's web editor. Follow her on Twitter at @amaconamac.