Where do you do your thinking?

I do my best thinking at the long end of the leash.

For some people, it’s in the shower, or during the commute, or while they’re dreaming. I’ve always had mental breakthroughs when I’m out for a walk with the dog.

I’ve written countless HOW Magazine “Editor’s Note” essays while I’m pounding the pavement, first behind our dear Wrigley and now sweet Peroni.

I’ve revised and revised my HOW Design Conference comments. I chewed over my rationale from making the leap from employed to self-employed. I scripted the words I’d use to tell my boss and my team of my decision to leave HOW and launch a second career. That evening stroll around the neighborhood is when I find the cranial real-estate to tackle a problem or think through a worry.

There are commonalities among these different places or times when we’re able to find breakthroughs—the shower, the commute, the walk. First, we’re away from our desks. Which means we’re away from the blank computer screen that signifies the project at hand. There’s no pressure to create immediately.

Second, our minds are on something else. The problem we need to solve is lodged in there, but it’s not right on top of the mental pile. As we circle back to it when our brains are more at ease, that’s when we tend to find solutions.

Walking (or running, swimming, cycling, whatever your activity of choice) adds a physical element to the mix. Your body’s occupied and your brain is occupied—on your breathing, or on watching the puppy follow her nose on a snaky trail through the brush—and you’re able to think more clearly. The trick, as Todd Henry of AccidentalCreative.com would tell you, is having the discipline to make time for the activities that prompt new ideas, and then recording those ideas as soon as you can.

So what about you? What will you do today or this week to free your mind so it can work better?

BTW: Check out this recent interview with Bryn on her “mid-life career change” and come see her in person at the Creative Freelancer Conference, June 23-24 in Chicago.

7 thoughts on “Where do you do your thinking?

  1. Luke Mysse

    About two years ago I found cycling and I honestly don’t know how I was able to be creative without it. When I’m out riding my head just figures things out.

    Lately I’ve been carrying my iPhone with Evernote installed, sometimes I will stop on the side of the road and do a voice recorded or written note as things come to me.

    For every hour I spend riding I probably gain back 2-3 hours in productivity, I don’t know even know what the ROI would be on ideas from riding but it has to be really high right now. I’ve said more than once to a client “Just leave me alone for a couple weeks, let me ride my bike and I’ll figure it out”

    Seriously, what was I doing the first 12 years of my career? Not taking care of myself that’s for sure…

    1. Bryn Mooth

      Luke, I love your comment about the exponential gains in productivity from your one hour on the bike. I’d be interested to hear from other commenters about what you do to ‘get out of your head’ so ideas can germinate in the empty space.

  2. Alisa Bonsignore

    I wrote a post about this after I broke my foot and realized that all of my quality quiet thinking time was now gone. There I was with tons of downtime as I sat propped up on the couch, but it wasn’t even close to being the same thing.

    The more time I can spend out in the world doing something physical, the better I am at the mental things. It seems so counterintuitive, but there you have it.

  3. lidia varesco design

    I totally agree, Bryn! Now that Essie needs breaks during our walks (hot weather + lack of activity over the winter), that means time for me to also take a break to observe the world around me.

    And like Luke, I also keep my phone with me on walks to capture inspiring spontaneous images or thoughts. (Evernote is great for this kind of thing)

  4. Fran

    It’s quilting for me! Touching the fabric, playing with its textures, piecing it together, hand finishing – really lets my mind wander. Also, gardening, digging in the dirt and planting things tending to them.

  5. Scott

    It’s funny, you would think creative people would have a special place or ritual for thinking, but as the previous posts show there isn’t one magic answer.
    For me I do my creative thinking everywhere, all the time. Over the past 25 years it has just become something that is always running in the background no matter what I do. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night jotting ideas down, or texting them to myself. In the shower I’ll sketch on steam on the glass door.
    Also, like one of the previous posters mentioned, exercise (for me running) not only offers a time to think creatively, but it’s positive effects seem to spill over into any time I need a creative spark.
    But when I’m in a rut or need to change direction on an idea a change of venue often helps.