It’s not just inventors who benefit from this type of downtime. For example, I came up with the idea for my current business while on my way to the dentist.
I’d taken the morning off in preparation for this painful experience. I spent the first few hours of the day staring out of the window, first watching the sunlight glinting off the dew on the grass, and then seeing the shadows grow as the sun rose higher. My brain was filled with nothing much. I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on work, so I didn’t even try. I just let my mind wander.
At 10.30am I got into my car and drove to the dental practice, still with a mind devoid of active thought.
When I arrived at the dental surgery I scrambled out of the car, ran into the building, and asked the receptionist if I could have a pen and some paper. I then scribbled down the first few hundred words of what would later become an 8,000-word business plan. When I ran out of paper I continued writing on the back of shopping receipts. Ministry of Prose was born.
Most of my previous business ideas have been created in a similar manner. I conceived the idea for IT Reviews, the computer software and hardware reviews website I used to own, during a long and lazy bath. That was my personal Eureka moment.
Downtime = creativity
This isn’t unusual. You probably already know that some of your best ideas emerge from downtime. Perhaps you were lazing on a beach on holiday when you thought up a new product design. Maybe a delayed flight left your mind drifting aimlessly in the departure lounge and led to a new marketing campaign. Perhaps you discovered the solution to a complex business problem after a good night’s sleep.
Our brains need downtime to be creative. You can’t force new ideas – that’s not how the brain works. If you want to come up with something new, take a break. Step out of your routine, clear your diary and take some downtime.
There’s a huge amount of processing that goes on under the surface, in our unconscious minds. We can make sense of the world of business and come up with clever ideas, but only if we give those ideas the chance to make it into the light of day.
Letting go of technology
It’s becoming harder to do. The pressures of modern business life mean that we have less time to think freely. Technology may have freed us from our desks, but it’s also expanding the realms of business. Work doesn’t stop at 5pm or at the office door. It’s rare to see people staring out of the window on a train or bus journeys these days. Commuters are more likely to be tapping away on laptops, hunched over their phones or reading an ebook.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these activities, of course, but they are all barriers to free thought. As a business owner, you need to take downtime so your mind can make sense of what’s happening in your business. Only then can you come up with the flashes of inspired genius that will help take your business to the next level.
Business mentors often talk about the importance of entrepreneurs having something non-work-related to do. That might be a hobby or other pleasurable activity. This is vital, because it helps shift your perspective out of the work groove.
But sometimes you need to go even further, and take the time to switch off entirely. Because the best business ideas come from doing absolutely nothing at all.