Recess: generating genius since the invention of the Post-It.

play-doPlaytime – or ‘recess’ for our American counterparts – was one of my favourite parts of the school day when I was growing up. All over the world at a given point in the day, kids charge out of doors to let off steam and rest their brains. All the information they have learned settles down: some sticks, some is lost forever.

You have probably already heard about Google’s 20% time. Google employees spend one day a week working on whatever they like, work-related or not. It’s part of a culture for internal innovation that has grown over the last half-century, championed by 3M, where both Scotch tape and the humble Post-It were conceived by employees who were either outside work or allegedly using work time for unauthorised activities.

At 3M, the business itself is innovation, so it might seem like a bit of a leap to transfer even a smattering of this ideology into our workplaces. We spend our time making marks using things that other people have invented, but we mustn’t forget the usefulness of play and mental breathing space.

When inspiration strikes…

The legend of the original ‘eureka’ moment maintains that Archimedes was in the bath. The inventor of Post-Its had his brainwave whilst getting annoyed during a choral rehearsal. These may not seem like obvious playtime activities, but it is in these states, when the brain is engaged with something completely different from the problem that has been tormenting it all day, that the flashes of inspiration tend to appear.

Sometimes it seems that the human brain is like a computer processor with a serious time delay. In the search for a solution, we try to absorb and digest the relevant input material. It is often only when we put it down and walk away that we free up capacity for processing, instead of taking in, information.

‘Sleep on it’ is not always a viable option in the middle of a working day, but we can let our brains out for other kinds of playtime…


Space, man

Here at mark-making* we have a couple of different spaces for meetings. When these are not in use, you might well find a solitary blog writer, or a duo of designers, taking advantage of the opportunity to switch surroundings. Changes of light and sitting position, even a new view out of the window can have a relaxing, lifting effect.

Work surface

A change from screen to paper or vice versa is often the key to taking an experiment in a new direction. Paper is more tangible, less intimidating for some, and lends itself to quick visualisations; with computer programs we can try out multiple versions of an idea without starting from scratch each time.

Let’s do lunch

We all take a lunch break during the day. It’s a nice opportunity to refuel both physically and mentally. Some mark-makers head out for runs and walks, others hit town to get things done, or sit and talk over some food. This is a double whammy: both food (for energy) and interaction (for sanity) are important in the thinking, genius-generating process.

Thought patterns

Processed with Rookie

Let yourself go

We often find that by letting our minds wander, we stumble across the answer we were looking for. If you bang your head against a brick wall for long enough… you get a sore head. But if you take a step back and look out of the window for a bit, you never know what you might see. If a direction isn’t working, it’s good to break out, walk around, sleep (where possible), or talk to someone. Releasing yourself from and then returning to a project is almost certainly more productive than chaining yourself to the desk. (Almost certainly. Desperate times…)

Openness is strength

We might have stolen that from a self-help manual, but in this case it’s true. Interesting things happen in all sorts of industries all the time, so we try not to be blinkered. As a matter of course, we look at conventional options and ideas within our own disciplines. The thing is, our internal resources can only benefit from investigating other things, anything, that interest us. Sometimes there is an unlikely concept or theory out there just waiting to give a project a kick up the creativity.

Mark Shaw said,

“A copywriter hard at work may look like a normal person sitting at a desk staring out of the window.”

I think this applies to every role here at mark-making*, and anyone struggling to solve a problem. Sometimes it’s best to let your mind out for recess, and see what comes back in 20 minutes.

Top image © dbrekke

Written by Chloe Marshall

About markmaking*

mark-making* is an award-winning creative agency specialising in branding, campaigns and communications