If we keep operating at maximum intensity we won’t continue to perform at maximum intensity. Without intermittent periods of rest creativity and productivity suffer in both teams and individuals. This episode explores the need for recovery time after intense projects and look what happens when we don’t pause, slow down, and let ourselves rest.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why recovery time for your brain is important for creativity
  • What happens when we don’t slow down, take vacations, and give our brain time to rest.


The Weekly Challenge

Figure out your “end game” with the current projects and other things that are causing stress for you. Is there an end date? If so, what will change? If not, how can you make some changes to your life to allow more space and recovery time for your brain. This will increase your creativity! Share your comments below.


Feel like reading instead of listening? Download the free PDF Transcript or read it below. Enjoy!

Transcript for Episode #053:
The Importance of Recovery Time for Creativity

Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 53. In today’s episode, I want to talk about this concept of giving your brain time to recover, which is very important if you want to be creative and really even if you just want to be productive.

Have you ever had that experience where you have a conversation with someone and then the topic of that conversation pops up in your life multiple times in a short period of time? Maybe you see an article about it, maybe you end up having a conversation with somebody else about the same topic and you just see this theme going on.

Well, that happened to me this week. I was having a great conversation with a good friend of mine a few days ago. And we were talking about how we can work really intensely for a while and then we need to take time to recover and to work less intensely or to not work at all even. In the last few months, she has been working intensely and has done some really cool things; giving amazing presentations, she wrote a book and published it in a month. Which was kind of awesome and a little crazy at the same time.

But I remember when she was doing it back in April and I was so inspired, I was like, “This is cool.” For that month, she was working super hard, 12-16 hours a day, but she finished. She met her goal. And I remember when she was doing it I was thinking this is so cool because I know when she is done, she is going to pull back and be able to relax. So even though it is intense right now, it is short-lived and that is okay. But it did not quite work out that way. That is how it goes sometimes. So now here we are a few months later and she is really tired and so we were talking about that.

I recently had a similar experience. Those of you who are regular listeners you know that a few months ago I finished my PhD. Finishing that dissertation, that was really intense. The whole experience of getting a PhD is a lot of work, but that last push there, the last couple of months were really hard and I was working a lot. Because not only was I doing that, I also had my business and was doing other things. I am not saying this to say, “Oh my gosh, my life is so busy,” no. I am saying this because I had this intensity and then right after I defended my dissertation, my partner and I spent three days doing nothing. We went kayaking but it was like this really mellow kayak, we went on this little wine-tasting tour, we went on a hike one day. But it was all pretty lazy, we definitely had that vacation feel. We were out in Santa Barbara which is a vacation place for us. We live in Wisconsin right how.

Why Recovery Time is Important for Creativity [03:50]

I am so glad we planned it that way because after defending my dissertation, I was kind of useless. That next day or two, I cannot imagine if I would have had to do something important or productive and I definitely would not have been able to do something creative. We have to give ourselves time to recover if we want to be creative. In that case, it was only two or three days. I actually do not know that I have fully recovered yet. Since then I have actually had a busier summer than I expected, but part of that is that my partner and I are in the process of moving to Ashville, North Carolina. So if any of you are listening and you live in Ashville, I would love to get together for coffee. I am moving there the beginning of September, this is 2016, and that in itself is — as you can imagine — a big deal. We are selling our house and I have been living in Madison for 15 years, she has been living here longer.

One of my goals when we move to Ashville for the month of September is actually to not do a whole lot. I was thinking about that today because I was listening to a new podcast that was just recommended to me. It is called Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert. There were two episodes that I listened to today; one of them was a super cool conversation that Liz Gilbert had with Brené Brown, which if you know either of their work, it was just awesome to listen to them talk with each other. I could listen to that every week. I hope they do some more episodes together. And they were talking about that need for recovery.

And then she also did another episode with a woman who had, kind of, you could say gone down a different path than she had hoped for in her life. She ended up getting a PhD in something where really she wanted to go in this different direction and be an artist, a creative. What ended up happening is she got really sick. And I think that is what happens, is that if we push ourselves too much, we end up getting sick. So if you are in that situation right now where you just have a lot going on in your life, figure out what is the end game. Is it a big project you are working on, are you writing a book, are you trying to finish a dissertation? Is there a natural ending point? And what is going to happen at that ending point? Will you have the opportunity to take a break, to rest, to relax?

I think if you have a typical like 9:00am to 5:00pm job, sometimes those natural breaks are built in and you get hopefully a few weeks of vacation every year and hopefully you use them. That time is designed so that you can recover. Because employers know that if I give you this vacation, you are going to come back refreshed and if you come back refreshed, you are going to be more productive, more creative, you are going to be a better employee. At least good employers know that. I know not everyone follows that philosophy and I think that is unfortunate.

However, I think it can be challenging if you are an entrepreneur. Because if you own your own business, it is so easy to work 12 to 16 hours a day. Of course it is probably easy to do that if you are an employee as well, but there is this extra pressure, I think, as an entrepreneur because you usually only make money when you work. And especially if you are early on in your business, there is additional pressure because you have not built up that momentum yet that you get later on. So my friend and I were talking about how in our society, the 9:00am to 5:00pm job is the norm. And so if you are an entrepreneur and you are like just lounging around for a week at home and you are not doing anything, that is kind of frowned upon. At least here in the Midwest it is. There is this incredible work ethic out here in the Midwest which has its pros and cons, for sure. I am definitely a fan of working hard and contributing and doing good work in the world, but there is also a time where you have to step back and you have to take a break. And if you do not, bad things happen. You get sick or something even worse.

I was thinking about people who live to be 100. You listen to these interviews sometimes with them or read these articles when people ask them like, “Wow, how did you live to be so old?” And their response is never, “You know, I have just been working my whole life and I have never stopped and I just — I do not know, here I am. It is 100.” No one says that. I heard one woman talk, I do not remember where she was from, Central or South America and she was 100 and she said that in her life she would work really hard on intense projects, whether it was a month or a year, but she would work really hard and then she would take a couple of months off, two, three, four months and just relax and visit people and have a very different lifestyle. And so she could mentally and physically afford to dive in very deep to a project because she knew there was an end game and then she would have an opportunity to rest. And that rest is so important for our brains and it contributes to our creativity.

This week, as I am recording this episode, the 2016 Olympics are happening in Brazil. I have watched various events and it is always so impressive. These athletes are amazing. And I think about what they are going to be doing next month and I assure you all of them have some sort of recovery plan. There is something they are doing or rather not doing, they are taking a break in some way. And of course that will vary person to person and sport to sport, but if they kept going at the intensity they went to prepare for the Olympics this year, they probably would not make it to the next Olympics. There has to be this recovery period and we understand that pretty well for athletes, but we do not think about it very well for us in a mental and emotional way.

Another aspect of creativity is something called Incubation. This originally, I believe, was identified in 1926 by a researcher named Wallas. He is the one who initially outlined the stages of creativity and incubation was one of those stages. Incubation is where you have some challenge or a problem you are working on and then you let it go for a little bit and so your mind basically is working in the background in the subconscious. If you wake up in the morning and you have a solution to an idea, that is because overnight your brain was incubating. So that recovery and that incubation in my mind, those go hand-in-hand. And then we have to build in that recovery time because that is also incubation time.

So often people would go out on vacation and while they are on vacation they develop really cool ideas to problems. So if you want to be more creative, if you want your team to be more creative, you have to build in recovery time. If your team is just working like boom! Boom! Boom! And you are just going and going and there was a project and now the project is done and the next project begins, you have to figure out a way to change that. There has to be recovery.

What Happens When We Don’t Slow Down? [12:06]

I was working with a team recently and we were talking about this and they had a lot of intensity going on. And we talked through some ways that maybe they could slow down a little bit and they could allow themselves some more time to focus on individual projects. We did not get into recovery in particular, but we talked about like it does not have to feel so intense all the time. And if you want to be creative, you have to figure that out. It is okay to be intense for a little bit, whether it is a week, a month, a couple of months, but then you have to have some recovery time. And I am not talking about a half a day if it is a two month long project, it is going to take longer than a half a day to recovery.

So those are my thoughts about building in some recovery time for yourself. It is normal, it is needed. If you do not do it, you are probably going to get sick or something else bad is going to happen. So figure that out. And it is not always so much about preventing the bad but also bringing in the good, bringing in that creativity and that if you are too stressed and working nonstop, you are not going to be creative. To me, this ties in so well with the episode last week where Darcy Luoma was talking about multitasking. So if you have not listened to that one, I highly recommend going back a week to Episode 52 and listen to Darcy. She has some great comments and insights about multitasking.

The Weekly Challenge [13:41]

Your weekly challenge for the week is pay attention and figure out your end game. Are you working on a project? Is there something going on that is causing things to be really intense in your life? When will that be over and then what type of recovery can you build in? Can you take a few days off? I will just give you one more example that happened tonight. While I was listening to Brené Brown and Liz Gilbert talk, I happened to be sitting at my table making these little signs — I am having a big graduation and wedding party this weekend — I was making these little signs for the food and they are all hand-lettered. And I am just sitting there drawing these signs and I am listening to the podcast and all of a sudden I realized I am really having fun. I am really relaxed.

I love drawing and I do not do that enough. So my commitment that I am making to myself and I am sharing with all of you is that I am going to do some more of that this next week. So that is my commitment and I am taking a couple of days off so that I can do that and do some relaxing. So my challenge for you is to figure that out. How can you incorporate that into your near future and at sometime in the next couple of months? And that is going to help you and your team be more creative.

Thank you for listening to The Deliberate Creative podcast. You can follow me on Twitter @amyclimer, you could find me on Facebook at Climer Consulting or follow me on LinkedIn. I will put all the links to references I mentioned in this episode in the shownotes and you can find the shownotes at www.climerconsulting.com/053, because this is Episode 53. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful week. See you next time. Bye.

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