As a Marketing and PR professional, creativity is more than a personal desire; it’s a daily expectation. I’ve heard and read as dozens of conference presenters, authors, and mentors remind creatives that they must make it a priority to stay refreshed and inspired, because ultimately their careers rely on it. But the eyeballs are sure to roll, as most creatives fail to find even a few hours to get away from their inbox or pre-filled calendars. It’s exhausting, and the quality of the work we do each day is dramatically affected. I totally get it.
At Geben Communication, one of the house rules for the entire team is “Design Your Day”, which is based upon the principle that we work when and where we are most productive. The focus of what we do is the consistent delivery of high-quality results as opposed to putting in your time at a cubicle or office space. This house rule was one of the greatest validations that Geben was a great fit and has been the driving force behind some of my best work to date. Historically, I would spend entire mornings or late nights hunkered down in coffee shops around the country, depending on where I was at that given time. Some of my favorite writing has happened in astonishing places, one of my favorite being with the sounds of Venice, Italy in the background and a strong aperol spritz next to my notebook. New environments and beautiful backdrops have the ability to open our imaginations to ideas that we’ve never considered before. And I think I’ll always crave that.
A few months ago, I decided to haphazardly book a trip to Chicago, utilizing the Rapid Rewards of Southwest Airlines and the certainty that a few friends had couches in the city. Last week, as the departure date approached, I had put very little thought as to what my plan would be for the visit; I’d taken a few work trips to the city in the last few months, but those were more client-focused than anything. U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the White Sox, was one of the remaining spots on my Bucket List of MLB Stadiums to see, so I knew that was a necessity with the Indians in town, but the rest of the itinerary was up in the air. While my weeks’ calendar sat filled with touchbases, circle-backs, and one-pagers, I sat in my Ohio home pondering if canceling the trip was the right move. There certainly was no chance that I was going to take any time off. But I resisted the urge to give-in and hopped on the one-hour flight to the Windy City. For three days, I roamed around Chicago, setting up shop in cafes and restaurants that offered a strong wifi signal and a new backdrop. I looked up from my laptop amidst a huge document review to see a Delorean surrounded by movie posters from the late 80’s (The Wormhole Coffee). I battled torrential downpour and racked up over 6 miles of street walking on a given day, but gave myself time to think through a social strategy that I’d not been able to wrap my finger around in weeks. Other results?
- I finished every report on time, one with remaining time to spare.
- I took the much-needed time to organize my inbox, and had it down to 0 messages for just over 3 minutes.
- I finally read the articles that were piling up in my content curator while in-flight.
- I sat in on two highly-successful team brainstorms.
- I tried three new coffee shops, six restaurants, seven bars, and one stadium.
- I relied on public transportation and only Uber’d once, taking me back to my time in San Francisco where the buses and trains were a mandatory part of my day as opposed to an oddity.
In all reality, I worked a few more hours each day as compared to my time back in the office, but I finished the trip feeling productive and well-achieved. When I came back home, I felt refreshed simply by having been away for a few days.
Yes, I said it. Refreshed. After working more hours. It’s confusing, right?
I’ve come to be a huge fan of the traveling workaway, knowing that by placing myself in new scenery, I am opening up the door to thought processes, ideas, and discoveries that I did not have access to prior.
Here are a few tips for getting out of normality and into your own new groove.
- Get uncomfortable. No matter the industry, reporting to the same desk, office, or workplace is guaranteed to get old no matter how much you love your job. Think of locations nearby as well as far away where you can retreat to for inspiration. Change can be hard and travel can be a challenge, but with proper discipline, you can find the real value.
- Know your strengths: It helps to know what type of work you do best when you’re out of the office. Maybe you do your best writing out on the patio of a cafe . Or perhaps your best campaign strategies come to you while scribbling on that cocktail napkin sitting under your drink at the bar. Try it out and identify what type of work you do best when you’re out of the office.
- Know your space: We weren’t all designed to flourish in a coffee shop. Your workaway could be in your own home, at that cute breakfast nook, or in the backyard hammock. But maybe it’s on top of the big hill on the nearest running trail. Go. Find that place. And if you’re lacking inspiration or ideas, it’s time to explore.
- Workaways are not vacation replacements: This is a personal struggle, but I’m improving dramatically. Working away from the office or exploring new spaces to work from cannot and should not become a replacement to time off. Some of the greatest inspirations in your life come when you’re not seeking them out. You bust your tail for nearly 50 weeks each year, so be sure to give yourself time to rest and relax. I’m with the Europeans on this one, advocating for a three-month vacation season each year. I blame the Industrial Revolution entirely. Rant over.
- Start small: Maybe you’re in a corporate setting and all of this agency lingo feels unobtainable and has you all sorts of flustered. Be intentional about taking short breaks that can stir up some creativity or alternative inspiration. Take a walk outside every so often or even explore a different floor in the building. Meet someone in a different department that you can “brainstorm” random ideas with. Start somewhere, and do it soon.
- Never be afraid to ask: So your company doesn’t have a workaway policy? Ask your director or manager about the possibility of working remotely, even just one day each week; even a few hours each month could be great. Trust takes time to develop and cultures don’t adapt overnight, but clear expectations in the workplace are an essential part of your own well-being, as well as the well-being of the entire organization. And when you ask, you may be surprised by the answer.
- Let your results prove the value: If you are given the opportunity to work away, be sure to measure the results. Keep track of your productivity (or even lack thereof) and keep tabs on the type of work you do best. Be real with yourself, and always be able to justify the time and energy it takes to travel.
You can complain about the cost of a decent cocktail in Chicago, but you can’t put a price tag on personal innovation. When you’re in a position professionally where innovation is expected, you owe it to yourself to place yourself in spaces that will enhance it. Book that trip you’ve been dreaming about. Do it before you have time to talk yourself out of it. It’s time to get to work.
(photo from death to the stock photo)