This article is part of a series on being less busy and more creative. After introducing the trouble being busy is for your creativity, we discussed how you could shift your decision-making process and start creating instead of consuming. This week, we are continuing by introducing some boredom back in our lives.
When was the last time you were bored? Can’t recall? Too bad for you. You might be missing out on the skill of the century.
Boredom and how to get it
Reading books or blog articles about being less busy oftentimes can leave you somewhat puzzled. So, in order to be less busy, I need to do this and this and this. I need to make a planning, do hard thinking about my values and decisions, change all my default behaviour and then I will feel less busy?
Pffft, who has time for that? Maybe that unemployed blogging girl at flat & framed, although she claims to be busy herself too.
Therefore, even though I have many other ideas and tips in my head that I (and maybe you too) would like to try out to get a less busy, more deeply creative life, I am introducing this as a third concept: Boredom, capital B.
If anything, Boredom might be the first tip that actually doesn’t require you to do anything or use your tired brains, and therefore might be the easiest to fit into your hectic schedule.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- When eating: Consume food, not information
- No phone, no computer, no newspaper and no books.
- Ok, ok, your family can stay at the table, no need to be too rigid.
- When waiting for your guilty pleasure junk food order (fries, anyone?): Wait
- Again, no phone, no ipod, no writing down to-do lists, no thinking about work.
- Take a deep breath, smell the fries and overhear what the old lady in front of you orders (one large fries and two mexicanos as it turns out)
- When taking a break: Rest
- no rabbit-hole of Wikipedia links or jumping between social media platforms.
- Breathe, sit, lie, look around, notice that the pigeon nest in the tree in front of your apartment is visible again and notice a big-ass adolescent pigeon being cared for by his parent.
- When you feel the urge for information: Ignore it
- In the evening, when you would normally browse the web, check Netflix series or read a book, ignore these urges
- Don’t do anything, then creep out your boyfriend by sitting in the sofa, while staring into the empty nothingness and decide to go for a walk to give him some piece of mind.
Sounds easy, no?
Actually, it might not be that easy. Turns out that some people would prefer giving themselves a painful shock than be in their own company, without distraction.
Now the busy person objects: Doesn’t quickly glimpsing over different things while in line, at the bus, while eating, at the toilet (?!) make us more productive? Not really, it just adds to you feeling busy, without adding much to your desired outcomes. Also, and more importantly, it trains your brain to switch focus between different things and impedes your capacity to stay focused.
Cal Newport, writer of ‘Deep Work’, highlights the hidden cost of, what he calls, attention residue. Quick glimpsing your e-mail, just a check, just glancing through, in the middle of focused working (or creating) can be disastrous for that focused session. Your mind was served a new problem (things in your mailbox that you need to respond to later) and it jumps at it, gladly, because it was getting bored with focusing on one thing. Then, when you’re already back to your original task, your mind is still crafting e-mails, thinking about that other task, etc. On a side note, mister Newport is actually professor Newport in theoretical computer science, runs a popular blog and has written several books, while still crafting his life in a way he can enjoy his evenings and week-ends without work. Talk about work-life balance.
What’s even more disastrous is that, even when you are doing these quick glimpses at the slightest hint of boredom only in your ‘free’ time, you are actually training your brain that you will give it new stimuli as soon as it gets bored. Then, the next day, when you are all ready to focus deeply on the one task at hand, for example your creative project, your brain objects.
Think about your brain as a toddler for a moment. You gave in by giving it candy (or in this case: candy crush) every time it asked and now you want to go a full day on vegetables. No way, brace yourself for some toddler-style tantrums.
Ok, so I got bored, what now?
Ok, so you decided you will get bored. It’s evening and you’re not going to fill it with the candy-shop that is the internet. What now?
Now, nothing. Just try to make some moments for boredom this week. You might not necessarily like it or might find it really difficult. Just stick to it. While being bored, be happy that you don’t have to do anything in this moment.
After a while, you might notice that it feels like you have more time in your life (aren’t the bored minutes always the ones that seem to go slowest?). You also created some breathing space for yourself.
After a bit more, notice that you are training your brain and it might stay focused longer during those times you need it to be. Train the toddler to like the veggies. Veggies are good.
A focused mind is everything in our current society.
Start being bored today
Make some rules for yourself, so you don’t forget to get bored this week:
I tried out:
- Eating without reading
- Computer off at 9 pm and then avoid filling my time immediately by switching to books or other new information
- Not doing anything during waiting moments
- Taking breaks without computer
Caution. When being bored, your mind finds its own ways to entertain itself:
- It might start thinking about ongoing tasks and worries. How to avoid this is a whole article in itself. For now, try to postpone your worries to a different time (think: I am not going to think about that now, but I have 15 minutes to worry about that tomorrow from 9 to 9.15. Avoiding endless worrying by postponing them to a set time seems to be a valid technique in suicide prevention, so it might work for your boredom rituals too).
- OR, now that you finally stopped throwing new information at it, it might start being creative with the things that were already in there. And suddenly, new creative ideas might arise, or a solution pops up to something that you had been thinking about earlier.
As it turns out, getting bored is difficult after all, not because your mind will be craving new stimuli, but because the phase of being bored quickly transforms into an interesting experience in itself, like deciding to go for a walk, hearing a bell chime concert and looking at drops of rain on leaves.
If you are enjoying these articles, I can advise you the following for more thinking about these subjects:
- Cal Newports blog archive. His books (‘So good they can’t ignore you’ and ‘Deep Work’) seem to be very interesting too and might be a more structured, coherent read on his topics of interest (they are on my to-read list)
- Or, for a good introduction without getting trapped into endless blog post reading: listen to this podcast, where he is interviewed by Ezra Klein