These days I spend a lot of time daydreaming, or even better, getting properly outside and wandering aimlessly. It’s well known that it’s good to work with regular breaks, but I always used to think that was just to rest the eyes and mind in time for the next bout of intense concentration, a kind of downtime. Luckily, I have finally realised that this is utterly wrong.
Doubly utterly wrong, actually. Wrong that it’s downtime rather than productive time, and wrong that in thinking so, it can be easily sacrificed.
When I eat brekkie with my daughter, we’re naturally drawn to what’s going on beyond the patio doors. What are next door’s cats up to (crapping on my radishes no doubt)? Have the acorns sprouted? Is that bird eating blossom? Why do the clouds look like that? Kids are very useful for showing you what is natural and what is not.
And that is my realisation: a life of intense focus is not natural. The bit where you stare out the window is when different pieces fit together, concepts blend and vision widens in all its senses. Not downtime, but hugely important creative time.
As well as making me stressed, spending time head down and busily squirreling away in a cubicle (or office, or kitchen table) actually causes me to see life as a series of cubicles. Finish one task or project, on to the next one. Ignorant of context, blind to relationship. There seems to me to be a clear link between literally neglecting your peripheral vision through excessive concentration and losing your ability to see the big picture in any form. Blinkered vision is, tragically, a virtue for the productive cubicle or classroom dweller. But it really tends to stick with you.
I can’t back it up with any scientific studies (it’s one of those immeasurables) or link you to an article (apart from a guy called Frank Forencich, who thinks it is important to bear in mind that our bodies still think we are hunter-gatherers); I just found it in practice to be undisputably true.
What’s for sure is that I’ll never tell my little girl not to gaze out of the window when she should be working. That’s where the creative thinking is to be found. Few nourishing influences are found while perched on your arse in overfamiliar surroundings.
So if anyone is ever unfortunate enough to be required to present and accounted for in the seated position, the best thing to do to find inspiration and learning is to at least set the mind free.