Imagine getting out of a cab at the entrance of a five-star hotel. You immediately notice the smell of fresh-cut grass, the beautiful landscaping, and flowerbeds. As you enter the lobby, you can feel the elegance of the décor. The staff is dressed quite handsomely. The property is very well maintained. You hear enticing music and laughter from the lounge. The smell of hot chocolate chip cookies at the front desk masks the slight smell of chlorination from the nearby fountain while you listen to the soothing tone of the clerk’s voice.
After a few audible yet pleasant sounds emanating from the insertion of the card key, you enter your room, taking immediate notice of the spectacular view through the window. The high thread count of the sheets is apparent to the touch. A mint was left on the pillow. A little sign guaranteeing freshness sits next to a handwritten thank-you note from the housekeeper. You can’t help but run your hands through the soft, plush towels. And of course, the ends of the toilet paper are nicely folded into a point providing reassurance that the bathroom has been “sanitized for your protection.”
Now consider this.
You get out of a cab at an old, roadside hotel. You hear the sounds of traffic and nearby construction. After paying for your room through the protective glass separating you from the clerk, you grab your key attached to a large plastic identifier. After dragging your bag up two flights of stairs, you make your way down an open corridor exposed to the elements.
You enter the room. It has a musty smell. There’s a large “tube-style” television bolted to the cabinet on which it sits. The carpet looks like it was originally in a now-razed Vegas casino from the '60s, and the bed permanently sags inward from overuse. The wallpaper sports a mixed display of fruit and flowers, and the bathroom smells of bleach. As you lay in the sunken center of the bed, you can hear the steady drips from the bathroom faucet in between the voices of people arguing in the room next door.
In the 1990s, Motel 6 began displaying solid black posters in their lobbies with the following phrase: “All hotel rooms look the same with the lights off.” Although technically true, we do our most productive work in the light, and the surrounding environment is critical to its success. Location matters. Regardless of what we do and where we are, it’s almost impossible not to have a psychological and emotional experience based on the elements within that space.
We all have a tendency to spend much of our time in some very unproductive locations loaded with distractions. Both my home and office are decorated with purposeful, tangible aesthetics intended to improve my mood and make me “feel” more creative and motivated. However, people, the fridge, the television, and sometimes the dog, frequently interrupt my stream of thought and thus, productivity.
To effectively complete tasks with higher levels of both creativity and imagination, I try to do it at one of my “sweet spots,” a secondary place where I can disconnect from the world and feel completely relaxed and energized. For me, these places tend to revolve around local restaurants and vacation spots. Restaurants work well when I’m simply trying to focus on something specific. People generally ignore me, and the surrounding activity serves as white noise to help me stay mentally locked in on the task at hand. I wrote my entire doctoral dissertation at Applebee’s, my first book at Chili’s, and my most recent book - Beware the Purple People Eaters – and this blog at Subway. Most of the creative thinking, outlining and research were done while relaxing poolside in Las Vegas. For whatever reason, these places work for me.
Our emotions directly affect our focus and creativity. A secret to productive thinking is the ability to identify those personal, five-star sweet spots where you can feel your emotional, intuitive best. Go there – whenever you can – when you want to be most focused, energized and creative.
Practice Challenge: Think back to when you felt the most happy or relaxed. What were you doing? Where were you doing it? What was it about that place that allowed you to experience something positive? Try to identify similar places, both nearby and far away. Use the nearby locations as your go-to “sweet spots” when you want to focus and finish a specific task. Plan trips to your distant locations and set aside that time just to think and process in a relaxed environment. You’ll be amazed by the outcome.