Taking breaks and stepping away from your work often leads to more creative ideas.
I love the story of Archimedes and his ‘Eureka’ moment. For those of you who don’t recall it from middle or high school science class, Archimedes was tasked by the king to determine whether a crown made for him was solid gold or whether the goldsmith cheated him by keeping some of the gold himself. However, the king would not allow Archimedes to do any test to the crown which could cause it harm. He was stumped trying to solve the problem — until he took a bath. As Archimedes lowered himself into the tub, he noticed the water displaced over the edge of the tub. At that moment he realized that if he put the crown in water to measure the mass of the crown, then he could figure out the density of the crown to tell whether or not it was indeed gold. In his excitement, he jumped out of the bathtub and ran through town yelling “Eureka!,” meaning “I’ve got it!” in Greek.
Learning to Pause
Most of us are quite competitive and driven to be the best we can be. We listen to podcasts on the way to work, catch up on emails as we’re waiting on appointments, and even read the news when we’re on the toilet… #nojudgement. We try to ensure we are the best we can be by filling every second of our day with productivity. However, particularly when it comes to solving problems, it can be tremendously beneficial to step away from the issue at hand in order to make more progress.
I recall a design problem I was struggling with in college. I was working nonstop — committed to not let myself rest until I had it solved. At that time, I was fortunate to have a professor remind me of the story of Archimedes, and how good ideas often come to you when you are not actively trying to solve them. He told me, “Go home, or better yet, go have a drink at the bar. You’ll come back emotionally refreshed, and there is a good chance you’ll make progress on the idea in the background of your brain.” Sure enough, I went home, spent time with my friends, and had my very own ‘Eureka’ moment on that project.
Stop and Take a Break
As that college professor did with me, I regularly find myself sharing the story of Archimedes whenever I find friends or colleagues frustrating over a problem. And, as Architects at Lark, we are constantly reminding ourselves of the importance of slowing down every once in a while. We live in a neighborhood and a city — a whole region in fact! — full of fantastic scenery, art, architecture, and people. We take these times to step back from our work to appreciate local artists – whose work we imagine in our spaces, to discover unique finishes and details – which we envision incorporating into our architecture. We have conversations with people in the most random places about how or why they use their homes or offices the way they do. All of these things outside the office make us better designers and architects.
Don’t get me wrong. We certainly spend our share of time actively working on projects and executing ideas. But, as I learned all those years ago, one of the things that make us great at what we do is our understanding that sometimes we need to slow down, to take in our surroundings, so we can have our next ‘Eureka’ moment.