The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 5: All Hail the True Break: Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain for Maximum Creativity

Vacation isn’t a luxury. Neither is daydreaming. Don’t skimp.

This was the pull-out quote from a recent article in the Sunday New York Times called “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain.” Written by Daniel J. Levitin, director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University and author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, the article reminds us that to experience peak creativity, we need to stop multi-tasking, take real vacations (you know, the kind in which we don’t compulsively check email or answer work-related calls, etc.), and allow plenty of true downtime in our daily lives.

When I started thinking back over the last few months, what I noticed was that “true” downtime is practically non-existent in my life. I used to work 7 days a week, then about 6 months ago, I started giving myself Sundays off. Sundays are now mostly work-free, though about two Sundays a month are spent doing some kind of work-related something for a couple of hours.

Some of that manic work activity I chalk up to having a writing business, a business in which it feels as if there is something important to be done nearly every minute of the day – client work; taking a business-building class; marketing, outreach and promotion; honing my writing skills; looking for and acting on opportunities to “build my platform;” social media interaction, and other assorted activities.

This is the cost of doing business, as they say, but the cost lately feels high. No play, no fun, no frivolity, not even one full day a week where I’m not doing something to move my business forward or thinking about what else I could be doing or should be doing.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this lately, because I’ve spent a lot of time feeling spent – worn out, wrecked, exhausted, fried, dog-tired.

And for months I’ve been brainstorming ways to slow it all down and build in unadulterated fun and carefree do-nothing time into my schedule. So when I read Levitin’s article, it felt like a permission slip.

Daydreaming as part of the creative process, how logical. Of course, right?

Then I remembered a glor-i-ous day I had recently, back in March. (Ok, so not too recently, but still.) I made plans to go to lunch with my friend Carolyn and her 7-year-old daughter. Before meeting up with them, I did the usual morning routine – gratitude practice, meditation, the drinking of the coffee, and so on.

I do this every day, but this day, for the first time in a long time, it didn’t feel rushed. I didn’t race through what’s meant to be languid and slow, all so I could hurry up and get to my desk and work, work, work. Instead, I dawdled. I dilly-dallied. I loafed. It was lovely.

Then I met up with my friend and her daughter a couple of hours later for nice leisurely lunch. Afterward, we strolled over to the bookstore, where we spent an hour or so wondering around, reading from books that intrigued us, and drinking coffee in the café.

There were plenty of other people doing the same thing, and as I looked at them sitting there enjoying their coffee and magazines, I thought, “So this is how regular people spend their Saturdays.” It was a revelation.

Then I drove home, read from the new book I’d bought earlier that afternoon, and napped. Later, I went for a walk at the park near my house, then made a Whole Foods run. For the rest of that evening and all the next day, I felt, relaxed, happy, and deeply rested. Like my creative well had been replenished.

It was the best day I’d had in a long, long time. Even now, a calm sort of washes over me as I write this, remembering it.

And the best thing was, I didn’t feel the least bit guilty the next day for taking the day off, which is miraculous. I’ve worked every Saturday as long as I can remember, and on the rare occasion I don’t put in at least 5 or 6 hours on a Saturday, I usually end up feeling like a guilty slacker, like I’m not doing “enough” to build my business.

But on this day, I actually felt like I deserved the time off, and my work the next week was better for it.

I’d like to say I kept up the habit of allowing myself a day like that glorious one last spring at least once a week, but that’s not the case.

But I’ll always have the memory. And because it did me so much good in the mental health department, and helped me have a more productive week the following week, the goal is to find a way to carve out many more Saturdays just like it in the very near future.