Have you ever found yourself effortlessly plugging away on a design project, only to reach a point where you suddenly hit a wall or creative block, hindering your ability to make further progress no matter how hard you try to reengage? If you’ve experienced feeling stressed, exhausted or sapped of creative juices after a prolonged period of time spent devoting your attention to a singular task, you’re not alone – and you’re definitely not imagining your lack of ability to focus after a certain point. 

Prolonged Periods of Creativity Actually Make Us … Less Creative?!

Research has shown us that extended periods of focus on a single task actually hinder our ability to perform. That’s right – all those all-nighters you pulled in college may have actually been futile beyond a certain amount of time spent studying when it came to your brain’s ability to absorb the information. And when it comes to getting into a “flow” during the creative process – that state of being where you’re completely, pleasurably and effortlessly absorbed in a task – it’s important to pay attention to when you’re beginning to struggle or feeling fatigued and then shift your attention to something else for awhile. 

Rest Before You Reengage 

Counterintuitive as it may seem, taking mental breaks during the creative process (or any process, for that matter) actually provides a “refresher” for your brain, helping it to “reset” so you can maintain focus and creative energy. In fact, a 2011 study published in the science journal Cognition states that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods. The study found that constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant – and the same holds true for sustained attention to a thought. In essence, if we focus on any one thing for too long, it “disappears” from our mind. 

Move Your Body to Reset Your Mind

Turns out that it may not just be the act of taking a mental break that matters, but the kind of break we take that matters, too. A study from Stanford University showed that the physical act of walking vastly boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after when compared to experiment participants who were sitting. According to the study, walking opens up a free flow of ideas, providing a simple yet robust solution to the goal of increasing creativity. So, for all you creatives who were planning a mental break to veg out with Netflix – sorry, but a walk around the block may prove far more effective in getting your creative juices flowing again when you’re ready.

Creativity Awaits … Right After this Regularly Scheduled Mental Break

Scheduling regular mental breaks as a routine part of your creative process is a nearly fool-proof way to ensure you’ll stay motivated and on task. And even if you’re unable to fit in a physical walk during your designated break time, the good news is that there are a variety of simple options that will allow you to effectively rest your mind so you can return to the creative process feeling refreshed and reinvigorated. Alternatives to taking a walk include consuming a healthy meal or snack, engaging in a “mini-meditation” or brief period of focused, deep breathing, or simply changing your environment, whether it be walking to the breakroom or stepping outside to breathe some fresh air. Ultimately, any activity that will allow you to engage a different area of your brain than the prefrontal cortex (that’s the goal-oriented region of the brain we use to concentrate and maintain focus on a task) is an effective way to recharge your mind and rejuvenate your creative juices. So the next time you’re hit with a creative block, try taking a walk around the block – you may be surprised at just how far a few steps can take you in your creative process.