How “productive slacking” can make you more creative

April 12, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Creativity 

productive slackingAre you a slacker? There are times when you should be.

If you make your living as a copywriter, or if you do any other type of creative work, you probably have moments when you feel burned out and creative ideas elude you.

You may compensate by working even harder, stubbornly pushing your brain to create more and more ideas, but finding that every idea is crap. Your creativity seems to evaporate.

The problem may be that you’re working too hard to be creative and need a lesson in the art of productive slacking. To explain, let me tell you a little story.

Long ago, a young boy walked into the workshop of the town blacksmith and asked to be an apprentice.

The master blacksmith saw that the boy was strong, so he showed the boy everything he knew — ancient techniques passed down over the years from master smiths around the world.

But though the boy hammered harder than any other, he could not shape the iron.

The apprentice asked, “Why can I not shape the iron, Master? What is the secret?”

The Master put the iron into the fire and replied, “Have patience, my son. Have patience.”

Years passed, and the boy grew into a young man, hammering faster than any other, sending sparks flying off in all directions. Yet the iron still would not give under his hammer.

Once again, the apprentice asked, “Why can I not shape the iron, Master? Will you not tell me the secret?”

The Master put the iron into the fire and replied, “Patience, my son. Have patience.”

Years passed, and the young man grew into an adult, working from sunrise to sunset and half the night as well. Yet he still could not shape the iron. Frustrated, the apprentice confronted his Master.

“Why can I not shape the iron, Master? I demand that you tell me the secret!”

The Master, now an old man, just laughed at his apprentice. “My son, I have told you the secret again and again. You must have patience.”

The apprentice left, convinced the Master was keeping the secret from him. But the Master, wise in his trade, calmly put the iron into the fire and stood patiently while it heated.

Then he removed the glowing metal and easily hammered it into the shape of a good luck charm and sent it to his apprentice. For he knew that you cannot shape cold iron. And he also knew the man would need much luck without a trade.

The moral of the story? You can’t rush creativity. Just as you can’t hammer cold iron, you can’t form creative ideas when your brain is tired.

When you feel completely uninspired, it’s time to stop being a workaholic and start being a slacker.

Set everything aside and do something else. Take a walk. Go golfing. Ride your bike. Take a power nap. Anything. It’s hard to do when a deadline looms over you like an angry cloud, yet it’s an important part of the creative process.

The break will allow the cold thoughts in your brain to slowly heat up so that you may begin forging your ideas.

Creative people know from experience that ideas often come during moments of relaxation, when you’re not even thinking of a problem.

And so, if you can, forget about your project for 24 hours or more. Just remember to tuck a pen and a little notebook into your pocket. You may get your best ideas when you least expect — sitting in traffic, in your sleep, even in the bathtub.

Write them down as they pop into your head, but don’t dwell on them. You need to be fresh when you return to your problem later.

Ironically, activity is the best way to rest and refresh your mind. That’s why I call it “productive” slacking.

My personal favorite way of getting away from a project is to work in my garden. It’s active enough to engage my mind and prevent me from ruminating on a problem, but not so active that it wears me down.

Your mind works better when you work it, then rest it, then work it some more. So when your creativity fails you, slack for a while. It refreshes your body and mind. When you return to your work, you’ll find your creative iron hot and ready for you to hammer into a creative idea.

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  3. Which of these bad habits blocks your creative genius?

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Smart Comments

6 Comments on How “productive slacking” can make you more creative

  1. Joshua Black on Apr 12th, 2010 11:37 am
  2. Very true!

    You can never turn off your subconscious. Once you have set your mind into motion, you can do many other things in your day will your non-conscious mind does the heavy lifting for you.

    I found that taking breaks is a great way to get new ideas in copywriting when you start to re-hash the same concept over and over to the point of staleness.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire
    .-= Joshua Black’s last blog … How to Cover Your Backside and Get a Pile of New Customers =-.

  3. nelley on Apr 12th, 2010 11:41 am
  4. Love it! So true and so frustrating at times to have to wait for the ideas to come. For me, a 90minute hot yoga class or a 60minute gym session usually do the trick to opening or ‘heating’ up my mind. Great motivation for getting my butt there, no doubt. Another great place is in the shower when the hot water hits the back of my neck. Many a time I wished I had grabbed a paper and pen before getting in, lol!
    Thanks for the tip!
    :)

  5. Chris Mower on Apr 12th, 2010 11:49 am
  6. Great reminder, thanks. One of my favorite ways to relax is a nice swim or a soak in the hot tub and steam room. And, as you said, that’s when great ideas come. So I keep a paper zipped up in a gallon size plastic bag with a pencil — so that it all stays remotely waterproof.

    Thanks again for sharing.
    .-= Chris Mower’s last blog … Entrepreneur Interview: Chris McClain of Chris McClain Productions =-.

  7. Dean Rieck on Apr 12th, 2010 11:52 am
  8. Nelley,
    I don’t remember where, but I once saw a shower note board. It was sort of like dry erase but for wet environments. Maybe it was in a kids catalog. That’s what you need.

  9. Melanie Kissell on Apr 12th, 2010 1:09 pm
  10. Tried and True advice, for sure!

    You call it “productive slacking” and I simply call it “self-care”. I don’t think it’s a selfish statement or a selfish thought to say, “YOU came first – before any projects, assignments, or deadlines.”

    Copywriters and others are fooling themselves if they sweep self-care under the rug, ignore it, or pretend their fairy godmother will just magically preside over their well being.

    Wonderful piece, Dean!
    .-= Melanie Kissell’s last blog … Nothing Tops A Toot Of The Horn To Validate You As An Expert =-.

  11. Dean Rieck on Apr 12th, 2010 1:31 pm
  12. Melanie,
    Self care. I like it. A long time ago, they called it “sharpening the saw.” I guess this isn’t a new phenomenon.