I′ve been thinking a lot lately about how important walking is to my life in front of the screen as a motion designer, so I wrote this piece for my newsletter/blog.

I believe one of the hardest parts about being an creator is forming a daily routine that reliably helps me produce value over time, and doesn′t lead to burnout.

I′m going to try and convince you that creators need to think as carefully about their AFK* life, as they do about their screen life. It′s a pretty long piece, but I think you′ll find valuable insights as an artist.

*away from keyboard

A park in my hometown of Poole, UK

Let′s start with some science. (It might get a little heavy-going but stick with me for the takeaway.)

There are two phases to creative thinking. There is intuitive thinking, which is fast and automatic, and there is divergent thinking, which is the ability to take a step back, and make sense of all those intuitive ideas floating around in your head. (A simple way to think about this is left brain vs right brain, but this is oversimplified.)

These two phases are at opposing ends, but they are both essential to sustained creativity.

Work at the computer falls into the intuitive thinking category. Focus narrows on the problem that needs to be solved.

  • Finding a stock video of a beach scene
  • Editing a 3 hour holiday recording
  • Watching inspirational videos for a logo animation you′re creating

 

Defining and condensing problems can improve productivity, but with screen-time alone, you could be completely off-target. Worst yet, you might not realise it until you’ve sunk a week into the process. “Well, I guess I′m not getting that time back!”

If you can relate to this, there′s a good chance you would benefit by paying more attention to divergent thinking. Although, there′s also a good chance you’ll think it’s goofing off (if you’re a bit of a workaholic).

As author Tim Ferriss would say, you′re falling victim to the lure of W4W, or work for work′s sake. From the linked article:

“It is a form of procrastinating and laziness, reinforced by years and years of habits and society-defined dogmas which value busyness before productivity and meaningful work.”

Ouch. I′ve been there, I know.

Alright, takeaway time. Assuming you′re putting in the hours learning skills in front of the screen, how can you sustain your growth as an artist?


Nearby hills of Studland

Divergent thinking through walking

This brings me on to walking. (Although the lesson can be applied to any activity that isn′t directly work-related, and that affords you the mental space to idly mix intuitive ideas that might not otherwise have been associated.)

This is my personal account of the habit, but it′s worth knowing that some of the most creative minds were walkers, too: Einstein, Steve Jobs, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche, Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

I love walking. It drags me away from my screen vortex and doesn′t load me up with reasons to procrastinate. No inner tubes, no gas, or waiting for other people. Just shoes on and go. In England, the rainy weather can complicate things but I′ll take a dry, overcast day any time.

Every morning at 07:15 I grab my backpack and head to the store a 30-minute walk away. I do a daily shop for just a few groceries that fit in my bag, rather than the popular weekly shop. The store employees still think I′m a little weird for popping in every day, but it get′s me out of the house and building momentum for the day ahead. I think about my work for the next day, week and month on the way there. And then I usually listen to an audiobook or podcast on the walk back. I love it!

The greener parts of the walk, when I′m surrounded by trees (and no cars) are the highlight. And it turns out this isn′t too weird, actually. The Japanese call it ′shinrin-yoku′ or ′tree bathing,′ and the Japanese government have now incorporated it into the country′s health programme. Closer to home, Forestry England (which manages public woodland where I live) has endorsed the practice as a way of regaining balance and escaping the pressures of everyday life.

As someone who works from home, I believe this routine is essential to my productivity, and even my sanity I think.

What I also love is that walking is just about one of the most accessible activities anyone can do. You don′t need money, you don′t need equipment, you don′t need permission. You don′t need to tackle the guilt of feeling like you′re at an unfair advantage to others.

Walking in public spaces allows you to step outside of capitalism for just a moment. Like much of the world, it now seems like you can′t go to many places in England without being charged some fee. Once a token of public service, the humble library is a less common sight today. Don′t be surprised to see a Starbucks instead. (No free seats there, though.)

This article may seem as though it offers no concrete lessons for motion design. But…

…if you work on your screen for most of the day, there′s a good chance I′m speaking to you. If you′re fortunate enough to have been born with functional legs and eyes, it′s likely that you could freely go out in 10 minutes and take a walk around the block. That′s beautiful to me.

It′s also likely that you′d see a tree or two, and for maybe a moment catch a glimpse of the sky′s infinity above. That′s beautiful to me as well. These things are beautiful because they′re free, they offer a comforting permanence in a rapidly changing world, and they′re readily available all over the planet. In the fleeting, disposable societies we′re clawing ourselves into as everything becomes monitized, I think that′s a beautiful thing to remember.


This article has nothing and everything to do with motion design. It′s the difference between hitting a ceiling as a mono-creator, and continuing to grow as you zig-zag forward.

It′s about the importance of recharging, of stepping away, of switching gears. It′s about the importance of practicing gratitude for the world outside of the internet. It′s about nurturing growth in other non-work related areas of your life; listening to a story audiobook or a personal growth podcast.

Swanage Railway Station

Steven Fry lost 84lbs through walking to audiobooks. He′d struggled with weight for as long as he could remember. You can bet his life is better in a thousand little ways as a result of losing that weight. A better life has a good chance at increasing your creative output. From getting out of bed in the morning with a bounce, to finding more satisfaction in everyday things like interacting with others, to being encouraged to improve your diet.

And of course, it′s about the insights you′ll get for your work when you give your mind a little space. Changing perspective doesn′t take effort if you make a habit of changing the environment in which you think.

So you see, this article has come full circle. It is simultaneously about walking and working in the life of an artist, and about how each can improve the results of the other. It′s about how practicing divergent thinking habits can have other benefits like losing or managing weight. And the best thing is that you are probably able to put it straight into action at the cost of nothing.

The question is, will you take that walk today?

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