Make Your Downtime

“While thus employed in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my unconscious, and these become the raw material for my advertisements.”

David Ogilvy, 
Confessions of an Advertising Man 

One of my lecturers once told us in class, “Find your downtime. Even better, make it. Your downtime is when you’re not glued to the news or on social media. It’s when you’re on your bike, focusing on the road ahead. Or when you’re driving, only thinking about not hitting a person in front of you.”

We all need some downtime every day to rejuvenate, to find stillness. And that’s not always easy to do. It’s tempting to tell yourself that your schedule’s too packed, that you need to get this or that assignment done, that you can’t spare even if only a few moments to settle down. 

With that, I’ve made it my rule to not work in the evening. No matter how busy I think I am, it’s a must for me to shut down. I’d put on my earphones and head out cycling, or at least go for a simple walk around the neighborhood. Or if it’s raining outside, I’d stay home and play “Red Dead Redemption II” on my Ps4. 

During this time, I’m forced to not think so much. So this is exactly when my best ideas float to the surface, or when my subconscious mind connects the dots or finds solutions to tough problems that I had been working on. 

When I’m under a lot of pressure, this downtime might seem supplementary. But it’s absolutely essential. It’s this small moment that makes all the other moments of the day go round. This downtime is what greases the gears of my waking hours. 

As David Ogilvy wrote in his brilliant book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, “The creative process requires more than reason. Most original thinking isn’t even verbal. It requires ‘a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconscious.’ The majority of business men are incapable of original thinking because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of reason. Their imaginations are blocked. 

“I am almost incapable of logical thought, but I have developed techniques for keeping open the telephone line to my unconscious, in case that disorderly repository has anything to tell me. I hear a great deal of music…I take long hot baths. I garden. I go into retreat among the Amish. I watch birds. I go for long walks in the country. And I take frequent vacations, so that my brain can lie fallow — no golf, no cocktail parties, no tennis, no bridge, no concentration; only a bicycle.

“While thus employed in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my unconscious, and these become the raw material for my advertisements. But more is required : hard work, an open mind, and ungovernable curiosity.” 

Do yourself a favor : start carving a block of downtime into your schedule every day. Make it a must for you to have this time to yourself. No excuses. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but most things are anyway. 

Go for a run, a walk, do something to settle down. It might just be the best productivity hack that you can put to use. 

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