The importance of idleness

It turns out that idleness is central to creative work. Perhaps I should put it differently. Incubation is central to creative work.

And by incubation, I mean a period of time in which you spend your energy on an unrelated and undemanding task. It could be taking a walk, doing some laundry, working in the garden, or even taking a shower or brushing your teeth.

This article from the BBC goes into more detail.

It’s long been recognized that writers have unique rituals and habits that facilitate their creative work. Mason Curry details some in his book Daily Rituals. What ties most of these writers together is that each made room for intentional idleness. Few are the writers who can sit at their desk for twelve hours of continual composition.

It occurs to me that modern workplaces–at least before COVID–are designed for linear attention and sedentary work at a desk. In my mind, this makes offices more like prisons than studios.

Few offices, for example, have windows that open, taking away the pleasant sensation of a cool breeze on a spring morning or the sound of birds nestling in trees–the things that make for periods of productive daydreaming during the work day.

Fewer still have gardens or lounges or other amenities designed to offer third spaces for the sort of activites associated with incubation. Is it any wonder that American workers are miserable?

For this reason, many find the office to be their least valuable space–it’s great for low-level work, but virtually useless for any significant deep or creative work.

It’s time to rehumanize our work environments. It’s time to realize that homo sapiens aren’t brains on sticks. We are whole people who need whole environments that offer more than a place to sit while we crank out widgets.

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