Lighting the Spark
The artist David Hockney famously moved to California because he found the light inspiring. No sooner was he there, his paintings lightened up too, as he abandoned the darker themes that his native Bradford elicited in him and focused on water, greenery and light.
Of course there may also have been an element of a young man discovering a new place and leaving the oppressive environment of the home town behind. But his need for light, fresh air and nature strikes a chord with many creative people.
Writing on LinkedIn recently about how I like to go for a bike ride to get my inspiration for writing, I found that my idea of getting out into the fresh air was far from unusual: People I have never met took to the comments section to say how they like to find their spark, and it included going to the beach and ’getting outdoors’.
The beach is one thing that we don’t have in Switzerland and as a Brit, I do miss the sea. But the real uplifting element for me is the light. Every place seems to have a golden season for light: in Britain it is the long summer evenings; in Switzerland sunny Autumn days bring out some extraordinary colours and clarity; and I’m a huge fan of the Spanish hills in winter. All of these literally seem to stimulate a part of my brain that wants to write, create and communicate.
Writing in Switzerland
Working as a journalist, blogger and copywriter in Switzerland, I’m lucky in that I have some great options for finding the light: I can jump on my bike and climb into a Swiss wonderland of cherry orchards and picturesque villages around Gempen, or enjoy the fabulous colours of the Autumn forest in Laufental. Or I can follow the pastoral Bruderholz hill into Basel, with the light playing on the Rhine valley beyond.
Cycling doesn’t require a lot of engagement of the brain, so it’s a great time for thinking. The rhythmic motion of feet on pedals seems to literally crank up my brain, so that soon it’s racing way ahead of the road in front of me, seeing angles in stories nobody had realised were there, or picking quotes that offer the key to explaining a complex issue.
When I return home to my desk, I often hit the keyboard straight away. Showers, food and checking emails can wait: I have words in my mind that I want to get down.
Breaks and Productivity
Of course, I enjoy writing about business and the subject itself also inspires me. However, it’s not only creativity that benefits from taking a break, having a change of scene and doing something uplifting. We make productivity gains too. A recent series of studies summarised in Harvard Business Review recently found that both regular breaks, and switching tasks often and to a schedule, helped workers solve problems faster. Basically, an active break is also good for productivity.
Writing in Psychology Today, retired professor and author of ’Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success’ Meg Selig says that for “think-work,” the prefrontal cortex needs to recharge regularly.
Meg found studies showing that short ‘movement breaks’ are essential in sedentary jobs; that leaders easily suffer from ‘decision fatigue’ if they work too solidly; that resting helps learning; and that we are more motivated to focus on long-term goals after a pause. Perhaps most importantly, working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion.
Meg’s top tips for breaks that really recharge your creative and productive batteries: Going for a walk, doing exercise, changing your environment and connecting with the outside world; for those who are less inclined to the physical a ‘power nap’ works too, as does having a coffee, meditating and even daydreaming. Just don’t look at a computer screen!