Working in Unusual Places

I recently read that Malcolm Gladwell wrote most of his book Blink while away from his desk. He wrote at coffee shops, restaurants, and other public places.

I’ve only done a little of this myself, but I’ve always found it a valuable practice. If I feel stuck in a creative rut, working in a public place is a great way to get new ideas flowing.

On Monday I spent most of the day on the Las Vegas Strip (only a 20-minute drive from my house), alternating walking around and stopping at various places to write and/or eat. I didn’t bring my laptop — just a pen and some folded up paper. Mostly I was brainstorming, so as soon as I’d get an idea, I’d stop and sit somewhere and write it down along with any others that came to mind. Usually I could find a good place to sit, like a food court area, but sometimes I’d sit and write at a slot machine. Then I’d get up and start roaming again. I started at the south end of the Strip at the Luxor Hotel and gradually worked my way up to the new Wynn Hotel and then back again. With all the wacky themed hotels, there’s an abundance of visual stimulation — a giant pyramid, a castle, a miniature New York City, the Eiffel Tower, a pirate ship, Roman statues, a volcano… plus lions, tigers, and ferocious flamingos.

I love the vibrancy of the Strip… the ching-ching-ching of the slot machines, the cheers and groans around the craps tables, the unskilled blackjack players who don’t know you should always hit a soft 17, the rowdy college kids, the happy newlyweds and their wedding parties, and of course… the buxom cocktail waitresses who look like they’re about to spill more than a tray of drinks. 😉

Oddly it’s sometimes easier to concentrate when I’m surrounded by distractions. I think the reason is that I know they’re distractions, so I can tune them out more easily. But in my home office, I’m surrounded by unconscious distractions — the kinds of things that seem important but aren’t. When you go out and leave your computer and internet connection behind, you can’t succumb to routine distractions as easily. If you bring only one kind of work with you, like a pen and paper for brainstorming, you can’t easily kid yourself that you’re working when you aren’t. You can’t simply claim to be working merely because you’re at the office. The line between working and not working becomes much sharper.

Try spending at least a half day away from your usual work environment. Walk around, eat at interesting places, and just sit for a while. Change your scenery often. Bring some simple work where you can carry all the materials in your pocket, like a pen and paper for brainstorming.

If you can’t take the time away from your office to do this, then do it for yourself on one of your days off. Take a list of decisions you need to make, and consider them one by one as you walk. Set some new goals. Write a personal mission statement.

Great ideas don’t always come knocking on your office door. A day outside can help scramble those stale inputs and get your creative juices flowing again.