Like many people, I do some of my best work when I’m not actually working. Creativity requires space: the blank canvas, the open stage.

I’m the founder of Cantilever, a web design and development studio. I effort to steward the company with measured deliberation, but there is an art to building a business, and entrepreneurs are just as reliant on inspiration as painters.

How should we approach our work? What is the culture we wish to grow? Where should we devote our resources? Are our processes frustratingly restrictive, or confusingly arbitrary? These are questions that require non-linear thinking, for which good answers are often several hops away from your initial conclusions. Unstructured time allows unexpected conclusions to emerge.

A stressed-out woman biting her pencil while looking at her laptopPhoto by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Monotonous activities like washing the dishes or taking a long drive trigger a certain automatism that can be the blank canvas for your next powerful idea, but I find nothing more inspiring than vacation. I try my best to forget about work. But even when I succeed, my trips home are lightning rounds of problem-solving, made possible by letting my brain rest and my attention drift somewhere else other than work. I return to the office with clarity and purpose. Questions I couldn’t crack suddenly seem clear. Long-held worries feel easily resolved.

There’s something about time away. The change of scenery, the shift of pace. The feeling that all is temporary: Everything that happens here, stays here. The urgent challenges of day-to-day work are like quicksand. The more hurriedly we fight them, the harder they are to escape. Calmly separating oneself from an ASAP mentality makes it easier to eventually break free.

A neon sign above green foliage spelling out “And Breathe” in scriptPhoto by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

While you’re away you discover new friends, or reconnect with old ones. You broach subjects you don’t normally have time for. Maybe you’re visiting a culture different from your own. A new cuisine, a new language, a new climate. The sun touches your skin with an unusual temperament. The air carries a scintilla of the place. The novelty of life on the road jostles loose the calcified synaptic pathways your daily routine has inevitably forged.

Most of all, you are untethered. Your inbox is a distant memory. There are no calendar invites, no notifications, no pings. Social media takes a back seat to adventure.

And in your quiet moments — waiting for a bus, dressing for dinner, packing and unpacking — your mind wanders. It appreciates the now, anticipates what’s next, and starts to see tangled old problems from new angles.

We don‘t have to wait for vacation for inspiration to strike. Vacation brings an attitude that helps solve problems. Why don‘t we try to enter that headspace more often? Why isn’t normal life more like time off?

Yes, there are realities to confront. We shouldn’t be lazy or profligate or gluttonous. But we should embrace “Vacation Mode” in subtle ways, jumpstarting our creativity and improving the quality of our lives.

A person in an anorak sitting on a cliff watching the oceanPhoto by Simon Schmitt on Unsplash

Make time for thought. Deep work can’t happen in a fractured schedule. I block off my calendar every day from 9am to 12pm for “Cave Mode,” during which I complete the most difficult task on my agenda. I don’t always get the full three hours in, but the intention changes how I structure my day, and the expectations others have of me.

Get a change of scenery. Walk a little further to try a new coffee shop or restaurant. If “face time” is important at your company, camp out in the cafeteria or conference room. Even something as subtle as cleaning off your physical or digital desktop can give your mind creative space.

Talk to new people. Anyone who works in an office has acquaintances they know well enough to say hello to, but not beyond that. Invite them to lunch, or to give you some feedback on something you’re working on. A fresh perspective, even an uninformed one, can make all the difference.

And finally, stop wasting precious mental bandwidth on habits you don‘t care about. Like most modern Americans, I’m bombarded with information constantly. If I didn’t look at the news for a week and felt better, should I be checking the news at all? If you skipped your nightly Netflix time on vacation in order to have more authentic and vivid experiences, why not do that at home too? The experience of Vacation Mode gives you insight with which to plan healthier, more moderate patterns in your daily life.

We can all find ways to slip into Vacation Mode. When we come back to reality, we will be rewarded with renewed energy and inspiration. Set the stage, and watch your ideas take flight.


Edited by Rebecca Testrake
Studio Manager & Magical Instigator at Cantilever