Blog Post

Is workaholism killing your creativity?

Recently we asked if web workers are particularly susceptible to workaholism. Opinions certainly differ on the question, but what if the hypothesis is true and, as some experts fear, there’s an epidemic of work addiction in the web worker community?

If you asked Brian Eno, he’d almost certainly answer that web workers are killing their creativity with their always-on mentality. According to a fascinating piece in 99% recently, the legendary musician and producer is a big believer in idleness as an essential ingredient in innovation – whether you’re writing a song or an iPhone (s aapl) app.

The article delves into Eric Tamm’s book, Brian Eno: His Music and The Vertical Sound of Color, and surfaces with insights from Eno on the magic that seems to happen during down time:

It quite frequently happens that you’re just treading water for quite a long time. Nothing really dramatic seems to be happening. … And then suddenly everything seems to lock together in a different way. It’s like a crystallization point where you can’t detect any single element having changed. There’s a proverb that says that the fruit takes a long time to ripen, but it falls suddenly … And that seems to be the process.

If you’re not an Eno fan and are ready to brush aside worries about what your workaholism is doing to your creativity, than be aware that the connection between lazing and inspiration goes back to Archimedes in his bath, passes through loafing enthusiast Walt Whitman and counts John Cleese as a contemporary standard bearer. Here is the Monty Python comic in a hilarious video backing up Eno’s claim that excessive busyness will destroy your capacity for creativity:

As a side note, Eno is also, apparently, a big believer in structured creative process and for those who are looking for ideas to refine their own, the 99% piece has a grab bag of great tips.

Do you worry that your tendency to be always-on is having a negative impact on your creativity?

Image courtesy Flickr user emma.kate

3 Responses to “Is workaholism killing your creativity?”

  1. I couldn’t agree with this more. When I’m working on a project that requires creativity, I almost always have to take a short mental break. I call it my incubation time. I find that when I come back to the project I can see it with fresh eyes and often come up with a more complete solution. This is probably why a lot of marketing firms have pingpong tables and video games in the office. They recognize that their employees perform better when they can take mental breaks.

  2. There is a lot of value in down time as well as cycling through different types of activities. I find that when working on a project, or even blogging, I need some consistent breaks so that my brain is allowed time to breath. There is a great book a read many years ago “The Power of Full Engagement” which speak to the importance of taking breaks in order to have peak performance.

  3. Well, I definitely think it’s worth it to set aside a “downtime budget” to allow you to cool down for a while after a big project. Running too many of those back to back is bound to degrade your creativity, not to mention your quality of life and family relationship.