Boost Creativity: Let Your Mind Lie Fallow

Sometimes our brains need a rest in this crazy-paced world, and creativity needs a little downtime to percolate ideas that are just under the surface.

Farming has a concept that lends itself to creativity. Fields are left fallow for a season, which means they are ploughed but left unplanted to rejuvenate. Fallow is characterised by inactivity.

I have just had a fallow month because I had just about burnt out by the end of 2009. I spent 3 weeks in Europe and:

  • Checked email twice in 3 weeks and hardly responded to anyone
  • Didn’t carry a mobile phone
  • Didn’t check or update Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn for weeks
  • Didn’t read any blogs
  • Scheduled my blog posts so I didn’t need to get online at all
  • Did not have access to the internet, or seek it out for 3 weeks
  • I read lots of fiction in between sightseeing around London, Venice and Rome with my husband and spent Christmas with my Dad near Oxford. A Northern Hemisphere winter holiday!

Yes, this is coming from someone who just said everyone should embrace technology!

But there is a need for balance.

We all need time for periods of achievement, hard work and creative acceleration as well as time to relax, day dream and let the masses of information in our brains come up with new ideas. I feel like I am ready to get going and achieve my goals for the year ahead after the break. I needed some time off to gather the energy to start on these again after a mammoth 2009.

Have you had time to let your mind lie fallow? Have you had a break? Are you full of energy and ready to achieve in 2010? (or do you need to set aside some time to have a break now?)

This marvelous TED video shows designer Stefan Sagmeister talking about taking sabbaticals every 7 years. He describes how the ideas he generates in that year directly provide him with the creativity he needs for his business. It has a direct financial correlation. Of course, not all of us can drop everything and take a sabbatical year, but how about a few weeks?

(Incidentally, Stefan talks about Bali and I am speaking at a Writer’s Retreat in Bali this Oct – more details here)

Image: Flickr CC Pollys Dad

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  1. says

    I agree completely!!!! There’s something that happens when we not only turn everything off, but also get up and move around – physically. That’s when I get my best ideas. I understand Beethoven used to walk in the woods composing, too.

    I am jealous of your being so efficient as to pre-post for your holidays! I heard “You’re ruining our vacation sitting at that computer!” so many times that I’ve learned my lesson. :)
    All the best, Kristi

  2. says

    I think there’s a lot to be said for switching off for a time! I find I can’t do it for too long (job hunting and mass eBay listings to be done) but I will give myself a few evenings off per week where I leave the laptop off, and simply sit and knit while I watch a film. The details of works in progress bubble over nicely in my subconscious while I get caught up in both plot and stitching, and when I come back to my writing, I feel like I know what I’m doing. That’s not to say I actually DO know what I’m doing, of course…

  3. says

    Kristi – I worked pretty hard to schedule everything. It was a stretch but glad I did! Search engines like regular postings!

    Artist – creativity definitely needs time – ideas compost and squidge together!

    Icy – Knitting is something I have heard to be conducive to relaxing. Haven’t tried it myself!

  4. says

    This is a big area of soul searching for me right now. As a 51 year old physician with a full time dermatology practice, I just this year entered the continuously plugged in online world; in 12 months I wrote all the content on my web site, started a blog (committing to 2 meaty posts a week) and jumped in to social media. Wow, my psyche is continuously ‘on’. Contemplating re-balancing, and giving myself permission for it is the next big frontier. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. says

    Hi Sean – pencil that time in now to relax!

    Cynthia – I know that it is hard to balance – just make sure you don’t burn out! I did that big push last year too, and this year I don’t want to lose momentum. I just needed that rest. I hope you can get it scheduled in with all your hard work.

    Thanks, Joanna

  6. says

    hi Joannna,

    Just came across your post while looking for more resources on how people see the relationship between technology and creativity. And I love the fallow fields analogy! One thing I’ve discovered is I don’t necessarily have to make space/time for that downtime, but rather, accept it when it finds me.

    I went through a bit writing/creative trough a couple of years ago, and a friend used a similar analogy about fields lying dormant in winter so they can blossom in spring. Once I embraced the slow time as an opportunity to recharge, rather than a sign I’d run out of creative steam, it ended up being a terrific and restorative period.

    But one thing I’d note: tech can be what you recharge with as much as what you recharge from (or rather, sometimes you need to do one, sometimes the other.) That was part of what I was writing about when I came to your blog — how tech can refuel your creative practice instead of draining it (see

  7. says

    Hi Alexandra, that’s great! Taking advantage of downtime instead of filling it is an excellent idea. The seasons of creativity are also good – although a flipside to that is the discipline of writing i.e. don’t wait for inspiration, work at it as you would a job (who has seasons of the day job!?)
    You’re also right – tech can be recharge – my husband loves computer games. I now read on the Kindle…does Twitter count?!

    Thanks, Joanna

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