In The Busy Trap in the New York Times, author Tim Kreider writes…
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.
In the design community, we talk a lot about the importance of not waiting for that moment of inspiration when everything just clicks. Often, your best bet is to treat design like any other job and just keep working at a problem until you come up with a solution.
It does our profession a disservice to perpetuate the myth that our “art” requires moments of serendipitous inspiration.
That said, I also believe, as Steve Jobs once pointed out, that creativity is often just connecting a series of unrelated dots that others have missed.
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.
– Steve Jobs
And in order to make those connections, you need to venture off the path. A lot.
I think Kreider could have stopped at, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections.” Because making those connections is what creativity really is.
I find that I get the most done when I work hard on a project for three or four (or five) hours, and then step back and move on to something completely irrelevant for a bit. When I come back, I often have a new perspective that helps me overcome a previous roadblock.