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On the need for counterbalance and time to focus

Having just spent a week away, I’ve been reflecting on the creative process and why recharging the batteries is so important, not just for me but for my design work and ultimately my clients.

Creativity is a funny thing. It can make for outstanding results, particularly in design, but it needs to be nurtured. The modern world bombards us – constant emails, social media feeds, an endless stream of things to watch – but when we’re always loaded up and never take a moment of solitude, we can easily lose focus. Do this over a period of time and it’s easy to burn out, or lose momentum. There is plenty of research out there confirming that having diversions from a task can improve focus, while daydreaming can activate our problem solving abilities.   With this in mind, I just got back from a week away in a beautiful cabin in Bellbrook, in the NSW hinterland. When you run your own business it can be really hard to justify taking time off. But this week I’ve been contemplating what I miss by not taking a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture. Because at the end of the day, if you’re always stuck in the work, you don’t get a chance to think and plan ahead, essentially doing the work on the business rather than just in the business.

One of my favourite books which really unpacks this notion of giving your mind time to think and contemplate is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a classic for a reason but it’s the last chapter in particular – Sharpening the Saw – that really resonates with this line of thinking. Covey explains that there are four dimensions to renewal – physical, social, emotional and mental – and when we’re feeling flat we need to look at these dimensions to keep momentum and energy going. When we get bogged down with the day-to-day, and all the stresses that come with it, your ability to be creative becomes stifled. I find in this space I’m constantly reacting rather than considering carefully or thinking strategically about what needs to happen. All creatives need to work from a place of deep thought and consideration, and design is no different. There aren’t any quick responses to design problems. As with many fields it requires clarity and time to come up with the best solution, which then leads to the best results. But how exactly do you find a sense of balance? For me it’s not something I feel particularly successful at but is always something I’m striving to improve. Another book I’ve come across that I found tremendously helpful is The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. Keller really considers the misleading promise of balance and instead puts forward the idea of creating counterbalance. “If you think of balance as the middle, then out of balance is when you’re away from it. Get too far away from the middle and you’re living at the extremes. The problem with the middle is that it prevents you from making extraordinary time commitments to anything.” It’s in the extremes where you can truly push the needle and make progress. While this concept seems in opposition to the need to take time away from everything, what really stands out to me is that to truly achieve something great you need focus and dedication. So where putting a lot of time and energy into something pushes you forward and can bring great results, it also needs to be counterbalanced by moments of reflection and pause. Moments to really contemplate where it is you’re going and course correct if needed.

The two things I always do when I start to feel too stretched, or burn out creeping in, is clear my calendar and spend some time planning and carve out some time for myself. I find puzzles incredibly relaxing, having one thing to focus on, it becomes incredibly meditative giving my mind some respite. Also heading out into in nature is something I find restorative – and my recent trip away just confirms the value and insight that nature can provide.    While they may seem at odds, for me it’s the combination of these two concepts coming together that truly helps me both maintain a routine and work hard, yet also create time and space to let the imagination fly. What have you come across that helps you fuel your creativity and recharge the batteries?


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