“You do your best work when you don’t think too much.” I laughed when I read the words that James had typed to me. It was true.
“It’s funny,” he continued. “There’s ‘don’t think’ and ‘don’t care’. When a person doesn’t care, I see it right away. When a person doesn’t think, the results are usually spectacular.” Right again. I see many people trying to produce nothing short of miracles each time they work.
Unfortunately, that attitude of striving for perfection does work against you.
It’s not long before performance anxiety kicks in. You’ve set a bar of standards for yourself that you must reach. You start agonizing over every little detail, tossing page after page into the virtual trash can. You might even spend twice as long on the project than you normally would, because everything seems to suck hot, sweaty rugby socks.
I Give Up!
You know what happens then, don’t you? Eventually, you reach a point where you just give up. You sigh and say, “Screw it.” You stop thinking. You search for a distraction – anything to not think of the Job You Cannot Finish. You Twitter a while, surf the ‘net, check out Amazon books, chat with friends… You just don’t want to think any more.
Oddly enough, an amazing thing happens. When you come back to the project, you’re still not thinking – and then it seems to start to fall into place. It could be just the right sentence that suddenly unleashes a flood. Maybe you haven’t tried a certain font before and you realize it looks just right.
Sometimes by not paying attention, you hit on what works.
Play is the Father of Invention
In A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech writes, “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.”
Think about when your best ideas come to you. Is it when you’re actively seeking them out? Or feeling the pressure to perform? Or is it when you’re relaxed, not paying attention and just playing around?
There’s a good chance your best work happens when you’re relaxed enough that youv’e let go of self-expectations. Playing with ideas means that there are no expectations at all. No one’s going to tell you that you’ve done anything wrong, or that it’s ugly or that it’s poorly written, or that it won’t work. Of course not – you’re just playing. You’re experimenting. You’re just letting your mind wander.
Who knows where it might lead you?
Not Thinking and Not Caring
That doesn’t mean you don’t care about the work you’re doing. There’s a huge difference between not thinking and not caring. When you don’t care, you’re just slapping words into a sentence or throwing images up onto the page. Whatever works – you just don’t give a damn.
But when you’re not thinking, you’re allowing yourself to be open to new ideas. You’ve loosened your creativity and set it free to go where it will. You start to think in new directions and try new ways of doing things.
This freedom of creativity is one of the main reasons you’ll find so many people encouraging you to take breaks, go for a walk, play with the kids or have a nap. These common-sense ideas have a deeper goal:
They let your brain loose to play so that you can do your best work.
What do you think? Does your best work come when you force yourself to sit down and get busy, or do you find your most creative ideas come when you aren’t even looking for them?