Heads-down time doesn't equal productivity

A few weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed our son into the world, and what a roller coaster it has been. He is beautiful and adorable. I am greasy and exhausted. I have learned that newborns are needy; they need you for everything. To eat, sleep, change their diapers, and more.

We have found ourselves overwhelmed, stumped, and exhausted in these weeks. We are 'in it' the majority of the time. And in these moments, it's hard to think; solve problems, plan, or anticipate. We are so engrossed with the issue at hand that we can't see the things that may help.

Seemingly minor diversions like taking our dogs on a walk, a shower, or having a friend hold our son have been so refreshing. It gives space, creates distance, and allows our minds to recuperate. And whenever this happens, I come back to our kid with a new idea for improving things.

I've been thinking about how often I find myself in the same kind of ruts in my day-to-day as a designer. Of course, the ruts of a day job are not as dramatic as becoming a new parent, but there are parallels. At work, when I'm banging my head against the wall and getting nowhere when trying to solve a problem, articulate an idea, or design something, the most productive thing isn't to try harder. Instead, it is stepping away and coming back to the problem.

So next time you find yourself struggling, take a beat, make a cup of coffee, go for a bike ride, play a game of Wordle, or pet your dog.

Productivity isn't being 'in it' but finding the fastest way through it. And often, it is a detour.