About 3 months ago, after selling my company and moving offices, I began a new routine of walking to work. Actually, commuting was a new routine in itself. Since moving to San Francisco in 2010, I had always lived and worked in the same neighborhood—for one year (during our pre-capital phase) my home was my office.
Today I work in SoMa, which, if you’re walking, is 50-minutes each way (or 5.5 miles round trip according to my Moves app) from my apartment in the Mission district. It takes about as long for me to hoof it to work as it does for people to ride trains into SF from the burbs.
My motivation to walk initially came from an Atlantic piece that referenced losing weight through “active transport.” Fortunately, I don’t need to lose weight. But I had been looking to get more exercise after throwing out my back playing basketball and then injuring my shoulder. (Welcome to my 30s.)
I figured walking would be a temporary thing, and yet I continue to do it every day, even as my health improves. Sure, the exercise is nice (in an old man way that I appreciate) but I’ve stumbled upon something even better—walking helps me be more creative. It’s the perfect way to have scheduled breaks in my day—breaks that give me the mental space I need to escape my desk and stop dwelling on whatever it is that I’m dwelling on.
Not that tunnel vision doesn’t have its role—it’s a necessary first step of the creative process and a prerequisite for indulging in a break. If I’m trying to come up with a new idea or solve a problem, the first thing I’ll do is focus and consume as much as I can. When problem solving, I’ll start by reading, asking a lot of questions, and turning the problem upside down and inside out. Dan Wieden has a saying I learned while working at ad agency Wieden+Kennedy: Walk in stupid every day. Or if it’s more open-ended—like brainstorming a startup concept—I’ll devour everything that grabs my attention, make a list of things that frustrate me to no end, and then list reasons why they frustrate me.
But dwelling only gets you so far—this is when walking really helps me. After you eat a big meal, you need time to digest, right? Well, it’s the same for creativity. Once your brain is saturated and overwhelmed with information, it’s time to take a break. Ideas don't come when you want them to (it’s a scary thing to accept). But I've learned to trust my subconscious and wait for it. My brain needs time to work, to make connections that I hadn’t previously thought of. It’s always a bit serendipitous.
For example, I had a great (and totally random) idea that came from the combination of the shirt I was wearing and a spammy email I read on my walk. And just yesterday on my walk home, I figured out how to design a new website that I had struggled with all day at my desk.
It’s also just a nice way to spend time outside every day, and avoid jumping from building to building. I am happier when I walk. It allows me to slow down, stop at a coffee truck and eat a freshly baked brown butter almond scone, discover a beautiful park in SoMa that goes largely untrafficked, randomly run into a friend I haven’t seen in a few months, notice small details I usually glance over (like how the colors of the city saturate when it gets foggy). I try not to take the same route more than once, hoping that a new path will lead to a new way of thinking.