Take a zero day – and tomorrow you will surge ahead

Holmesconcert

The expression “zero day” I learned from my son when he walked the Appalachian Trail from end to end one summer. Some days he made 20+ miles, some better, some not so much. Through snow and heat and rain. But every now and again he rested for a day in his hammock-tent or in some bunkhouse in an obscure corner of rural America, These days on which he advanced no miles were his zero days. They served for re-energizing, regrouping, rest and reflection. They were invaluable.

We need zero days in our creative work. 24/7-always-on is not ultimately efficient if we don’t take breaks to step back and get some other stimulus – and stop thinking about whatever it was we were working on. There are no worthwhile prizes for filling all your time sheets and billing all your hours – there are rewards for the victories: the inspired outcome, the brilliant insight, the fresh approach.

I refer you, yet again, to the invaluable classic book “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young. In the chapter called The Mental Digestive Process he says:

“facts sometimes yield up their meaning quicker when you do not scan them too directly, too literally.  …You remember how Sherlock Holmes used to stop right in the middle of a case and drag Watson off to a concert? That was a very irritating procedure to the practical and literal-minded Watson. But Conan Doyle was a creator and knew the creative processes. So when you reach this third stage in the production of an idea, drop the problem completely, and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theatre or movies, read poetry or a detective story.”

In other words, as far as your project is concerned, plan to take a zero day. On the following day you will make tremendous progress.