Switch off to switch on: Why rest is essential for creativity

By Jessie Nicholls,

This Sunday marks one of my favourite days of the year; when the clocks go back and everyone gets an extra hour in bed! But while you’re making the most of what has become known as National Sleep In Day, congratulate yourself because you’re actually carrying out a very important work task: rest.

Why is rest so important? In Alex Soojung’s recent book, Rest, he argues that rather than being at odds with work, rest can actually improve the quality and efficiency of our output. Rest allows the mind to wander, which functional magnetic resonance imaging shows is not the passive, low-level brain activity we might assume it to be. Entirely new parts of the brain are switched on, which are responsible for breaking down mental blocks and thinking creatively.

In the PR and communications industry, we can all be guilty of failing to give rest the credit it deserves. Creative thinkers throughout history have not made the same mistake. Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens both worked a maximum of five hours a day to allow ample time for rest.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But in today’s world, we need to be wary of what constitutes constructive rest and what doesn’t. Sadly, activities such as watching TV or surfing the web don’t count. Rest isn’t defined purely by the absence of work but must be a deliberate and active choice, like sleeping and napping but also – counterintuitively perhaps – walking, thinking and pursuing a hobby.

Thought leadership – and thoughtful communications in general – needs creativity to succeed. To enable that creativity, we need to embrace rest.

Clearly, adopting the two Charles’ approach to work won’t fit with the average PR diary. But, without proper rest, PR professionals risk becoming not just exhausted but uncreative, and results could suffer. Here are some more practical solutions all PR professionals should consider.

Focus on creative tasks early in the morning. This is when our creative energy is highest. It is also when we are at our most uninhibited, meaning we are more responsive to our imagination and less prone to distraction.

Take an early afternoon walk. It will help relax the mind at a time when our circadian rhythm typically starts to dip. About six hours after we wake up is when we start to get that fading feeling, particularly after a productive morning. Taking a stroll helps you relax and allows the mind to wander.

Engage in ‘deep play’ during breaks. Resist the urge to sit with your phone staring at social media over lunch – this is not true rest! Draw, do a crossword or make the most of the office table football to keep your unconscious mind ticking over.

Amid our busy working lives, giving ourselves plenty of opportunity to rest is critical to our chances of delivering creative, thoughtful and ultimately successful communications campaigns. After all, it worked for some of the best novelists and scientists of all time.

Jessie Nicholls, Senior Consultant, Linstock Communications

Picture credit: Jacob Townsend


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