Do you remember the last time you were bored? The “I don’t know what to do with myself right now” kind of boredom? For me, it was when I was a child in the dead of summer in the Louisiana heat when I didn’t have a ride to the pool and it was too scorching to play outside. In those instances, I defaulted to making something crafty or color coding my closet. Kids these days will never experience the type of boredom that many of us did before iPads, computers, and video games.
Today, we are in a constant state of stimulation from checking persistent notifications to endless scrolling and our attention is continuously being hijacked. In our fast-paced world, we are rewarded for a jam-packed calendar, being on the go, and getting stuff done. When did it become an expectation to not have moments of downtime? Regardless of age and generation, people do not experience boredom like the good old days prior to technology. It’s as though if we don’t have every moment filled with productivity or the feeling of being productive (i.e. checking your to do list, inbox, or tomorrow’s weather forecast) then we aren’t using our time wisely. Even our downtime might look like sitting on the couch with the tv on while simultaneously checking email or completing a spreadsheet. The incessant state of distraction is blocking us from making connections with thoughts, ideas, and others around us.
Preventing ourselves from boredom is leading to a creativity crisis!
What research shows is that the occurrences of downtime when (these days) we feel like we are bored or unproductive is the time when our brain is very busy. We ignite a network in our brain called the “default mode.” When we go into default mode, our mind is connecting disparate thoughts in our subconscious and our creative juices flow freely. These moments are for putting together building blocks to make sound decisions, solve our most challenging problems, and allow us to think outside the box of present moment. We also create a personal narrative, set goals, and figure out what steps we need to reach them.
When do you get your best ideas? For some, it maybe when they’re in the shower, walking the dog, or folding laundry. These mindless activities permit brains to avoid distraction by the stimulants that seize our attention. Our new way of the world is not changing any time soon so the best way to mitigate the effects over stimulation would be to recognize opportunities for monotony in your daily routine. As organizations, we need to allow for moments of boredom. An IBM survey rated creativity as the number one leadership competency. So, if boredom leads to connections which to lead creativity, why aren’t we promoting moments of boredom in work and life?
Manoush Zomorodi is a journalist and podcast host who started a project called “Bored and Brilliant” to figure out how the over stimulation of technology is affecting our ability to be creative. The goal of the project was to study her podcast listeners and those who were feeling the effects of the creativity crisis. Watch her TED talk to learn more about the project and how boredom is the connection between spacing out and creativity. The outputs of her study can be found on her podcast where she has different daily challenges for how to hone your attention in a productive way and find methods of downtime that allow us to get back to our creative sides in our modern world of super productivity. Some of my favorite challenges include “Delete That App” and “One Small Observation.”
Other methods to integrate boredom in your life in addition to the “Bored and Brilliant” challenges include:
Recognize moments when you reach for your phone to mindlessly scroll or check your to do list for the umpteenth time. Think about what the circumstances were, what tasks you were involved in, and what is the underlying reason why you reached for your phone. Jot down a note so you make a mental connection with the reasons that led you to a distraction.
Take a mental snack. Set time on your calendar or an alarm to get up and walk away from what you’re doing (leaving your phone behind). Give your brain time to digest the last hour or so of work and step away. When you come back to what you were doing it’s like turning a fresh page in a book and your brain starts to function with more clarity.
Shift your mindset towards being OK with downtime. Allow yourself and your team members to walk away or take a ‘time out’ at a meeting to simply think freely. As leaders accept that people can still get things accomplished when they’re not tied down to their computer or desk, the more this will become a widely known best practice. The more we promote positive ways of introducing instances of downtime through communication and tenacity, the more successful we will be in our journey towards creativity.
Schedule at least 10 minutes twice a day to have free-thinking downtime. This may seem crazy to people who have jammed packed calendars but imagine what will happen if you don’t permit yourself time to make connections with all the thoughts, conversations, and ideas you have throughout the day. You may experience a creativity drought prohibiting you from creating new solutions or ideas in work and life!
The more we start recognizing and allowing time for boredom, the more creative solutions and ideas that people will bring to their organizations. We need to learn ways to use technology as a tool to help us improve our work, communication, and relationships instead of letting it rule our lives.
By doing nothing, we are actually being our most creative and productive self.