When was the last time you sat staring off into space daydreaming? Now, when you have a moment of down time, you probably check your e-mails, text, go online or play Angry Birds.
There’s plenty of technology on that smartphone to keep your mind occupied. But here's the rub: Your brain needs to be bored to be creative. It also needs down time to re-group.
Just think back to the days when your mom kicked you out of the house and told you to come home when it’s dark. Think of how creative you were at filling that unstructured time.
Genevieve Bell, Ph.D., the director of interaction and experience research, at Intel says “boredom is linked to creativity.” Some of your most creative thoughts come when your mind is disengaged and not receiving information, for example, when you go for a walk or run (without an iPod blaring), gardening, painting a fence or knitting.
“Daydreaming is increasingly seen as a way that we work through, almost unconsciously, problems that we confront in our lives,” says Peter Toohey, author of Boredom: A Lively History. “We often seem to encounter solutions through daydreaming.”
Time tends to slow down when we’re bored, which can create a discomfort or tension, but that’s when your brain kicks in to entertain itself, unless the entertainment is being done for you. Then it’s a missed opportunity.
“Many of the devices we have make it easier for the consumption of content,” says Bell, an anthropologist by training. “The challenge of that is there’s less time to think about what you’re consuming, less time to develop your own points of view. We may have traded in boredom for being overloaded.”
We’re not saying it’s easy, but here are a few simple steps you can take to recoup some time to daydream:
1. Designate phone-free time. Choose one time when you typically turn to your smartphone to kill time, such as commuting on the train, on your lunch break, or at your kid’s soccer game, and designate that as phone-free time. Start with once a week, and if you like it, increase it to two days.
2. At work, create technology check-in times. Designate a certain time, perhaps two or three times a day, to check your e-mail, texts, Facebook and other social media. Stay clear of these time-sinks the rest of the day.
3. Unplug at home: Keep one room at home free of technology. It helps to have no temptations.
4. Don’t over-schedule your weekends: If you can’t resist signing your kids up for soccer, that’s fine, but keep the rest of the day free of commitments and go outdoors, tool around the backyard, go for a walk with your kids and let your mind wander.