Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Move the furniture

Last week I came across this entry on The Book Designer blog in which Joel Friedlander told of a man who rearranges his furniture every few weeks just because the frequent sense of change sharpens his creativity and his productivity. The blog writer, who was telling this story second-hand, used “rearranging the furniture” as a metaphor for changing things up and introducing new elements as a way of keeping the mind alert.

I had to smile as I read it because it rang so true to me. My life has generally not been characterized by a lot of major changes, particularly not in terms of physical setting: I’ve spent almost my entire life in the same state, and the majority of those years in the same town. And yet I can vouch for what a positive impact frequent small changes can have on a creative mindset. So many times, the most minor changes in my life have given me an unexpected and seemingly unwarranted sense of renewal. Two years ago, when I changed the time of my weekday run from early evening to afternoon, it seemed like a great idea and gave me new energy. “Afternoon must be a much better time for me to run, physiologically speaking,” I concluded. But then one year ago, circumstances caused me to change from an afternoon run to a morning run, and I had that same feeling of a new spring in my step. It probably doesn’t actually matter what time of day I run, from a physiological perspective: it’s just the change itself that is reinvigorating.

Almost twenty years ago, when I was a copy editor at the American Meteorological Society, the editorial director told us a story about an office in which several copy editors shared one large space. One day, electricians came in and replaced all the lighting with a different kind of bulb. Immediately the productivity of the copy editors increased measurably, so the department head concluded that the new lighting made it easier for them to see and enabled them to work faster. But then after a month or so, the electricians came back and put the old bulbs back in, and again the productivity increased. It turned out, of course, that neither kind of bulb was more conducive to the editors’ productivity; it was the change itself that put a spring in their step, metaphorically speaking.

I find it particularly invigorating when I can find some small way to make my regular practices a little bit easier. Last week I started backing my car into our garage rather than parking in toward the house. Because of my bad habit of being just a teeny bit behind schedule almost every time I leave the house, this change seems to make a tremendous difference in my outlook whenever I leave to go somewhere. The car is already facing the right way and I don’t have to back out? Fantastic! In reality, I’m probably saving myself all of about fifteen seconds, but that one tiny saved step brightens my outlook considerably.

The “move the furniture” blog reminded me again to find small ways to change what I’m doing: a minor alteration in routine, a new habit like leaving my purse by the door instead of by my desk, or, indeed, a trivial rearrangement of the furniture. Routine is fundamental, but small changes within those routines can be effective as well. And it’s always great to feel that little surge of renewed energy that comes from almost any kind of trivial change.

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