I have a day job that (usually) confines itself to a typical nine to five schedule. Sometimes I get into the office a big late, so I stay later in the afternoon, but — on whole — it’s a ‘chained to the desk’ job.
Now, if any of my day co-workers are reading this please forgive me, but our office is not conducive to creativity. We work in an open planned area with a one-foot space between our desks, and it is expected that work happens at our desk. While we can take breaks, a three hour jaunt away from the office would be recorded as annual leave, not a chance to mentally work on a task.
For me (and, I feel, for a lot of people) this sort of environment not only hinders creativity, but it also hinders productivity. When I’m having trouble finding the solution to an answer, the best place for me is NOT at a desk. I find solutions while walking through the city centre, sitting on a park bench, or a rambling through the country side. A desk with office murmurs, florescent lights, and mounds of papers filled with task lists is not a place to be inspired.
However, before I put the entire blame on contemporary office culture, I must point the finger at myself. I may spend my day thinking, ‘If I were able to go on a two-hour walk, I would be much more productive’, but I go home, chain myself to the laptop, and wonder why the words won’t flow freely. Despite knowing that creation comes best when physically active, I tell myself that productivity only comes with typing. I have allowed a counterproductive industrial attitude to override my common sense. As I sit at my keyboard, frozen unable to move forward in thought, I consciously push aside a need to move about. I tell myself, ‘No, you cannot go for a walk. That is a reward for work done, it is not work itself.’
This pattern prevailed throughout my thesis, where I spent unproductive days telling myself ‘You can go for a walk when this chapter is finished’. Not, ‘Go for a walk so that you can finish this chapter’, despite knowing that I would be much more acute after going to the gym, having a wander along the beach, or even just playing a game on the Wii. It was this mindset that, probably, made my thesis slightly more difficult than it should have been, and it is definitely what caused me to gain several stone during the last year of my MPhil. (Some of this fear of leaving the keyboard could have been attributed to an idea perpetrated by supervisors that a postgraduate must be working on a thesis 24/7 or else it is doomed to fail. But, that’s a discussion for another post.)
So, why do we do this? Why do we tell ourselves that activity is a reward for creativity (and, I should clarify that I believe creativity and productivity to be two-sides of one coin) and not that the two are a single unit?
I believe it goes back to our childhoods. Recess was break time, and not a part of education. We could ‘go out and play, after the homework was done’. This separation has continued into our working lives, where lunches longer than an hour come with angry co-workers mumbling about ‘someone taking the mick’. And, all of this stems from a very old concept of work that was introduced by factory owners in the Industrial Revolution. As people moved from the land to the factory, a single schedule for all was necessary to streamline organisation (couldn’t very well have workers wandering in and out of the Jute mill at all hours).
I am not arguing that work and play should always be mixed. We need our ‘downtime’. We need to not think about work. However, we should be able to leave our desks without retribution — either from our boss, coworkers, or (most importantly) from ourselves. Additionally, at some point, we must sit down at our desks and get the words on the page.
What I am arguing is for us (writers) to not impose the habits of industrialising Victorians upon ourselves. We’re chained to our desks 40 hours a week, so why do it at home? The creativity will not come. Perhaps, instead, we should could consider exercise, sport, and a general wandering through the countryside as ‘writing’ time. I think this would take the pressure off, and we’d find ourselves much more productive.
So, the next time I find myself at a keyboard, with the words stuck in my fingers, I shall go for a walk.