As it turns out, doing "nothing" is productive

As a lover of all types of podcasts, I have one playing 90 percent of the time in the car or at home. Multiple times a day I send video messages to my closest girlfriends on the Marco Polo app. My phone is always within arm’s reach, even though I have a pretty healthy social media-consumption habits. I am always in the middle of doing something, I don’t seem to give my brain a rest. But I am sensing a need for more stillness in my life.

This inclination was confirmed after reading Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi. Zomorodi’s book was born out her podcast, which challenged listeners with experiments intended to silence technological noise in order to “jump-start their creativity.”

“When our minds wander, we activate something called the ‘default mode,’” Zomorodi explains, “the mental place where we solve problems and generate our best ideas, and engage in what’s known as ‘autobiographical planning,’ which is how we make sense of our world and our lives and set future goals.” The more time we spend in the default mode, the more opportunities we have to use the creative side of our brain.

“Boredom is the gateway to mind-wandering,” Zomorodi explains, “which helps our brain create those new connections so we can solve anything from planning dinner to a breakthrough in combating global warming.” When your brain gets a chance to become bored in the stillness, it could easily create a breakthrough to your next creative project or dream.

To illustrate this point, Zomorodi points to a study by a British psychologist, Sandi Mann. Mann asked participants to do something really boring (copy numbers out of a telephone book for 15 minutes) and then try a creative task. What was most surprising, was after completing the boring task, the participants came up with some of their most original ideas when they tackled the creative one.

From the beeps and dings of our phones and email, to constantly focusing on high performance in work, rarely do we see mundane tasks as meaningful. But this research is an invitation to consider boredom as productive. Here are a few different ways to give it a try.

Build boredom into your day. 

Look at your daily routine to see if there are times you give your brain a rest and get bored. What about while you are in the shower, drying your hair, or putting makeup on? How about when you brush your teeth in the morning or evening? Take a review of what your daily life looks like. Are there places you can shut off noise, put your phone down, and let your mind wander?

If this sounds intimidating to you, or you’re still not sure what boredom looks like for you, check out the Bored and Brilliant Day Project. It is a simple, effective way to jumpstart your brain and experience the principles Zomorodi explores in detail in her book. The project is six days long, with a unique prompt and task to complete each day to take a step back from the constant stimulation of your phone and give yourself space to let your brain get bored.

A six day challenge might not fix everything, but it will certainly give you an honest look at yourself and you might be surprised at what you discover.

Commit to a noise free commute. 

Whether you take public transit, walk, or drive yourself to work, the chances are high that you’re either listening to music, a podcast, or talking on the phone. When we are constantly connected to other things, we miss out on the simple, everyday beauty of the world around us. You do not notice the beautiful sunny day or hear the birds tweeting. You don’t stop to soak up the beauty of an early morning sunrise.

Unplug. Disconnect. Take out your earbuds. Just drive to the office in the still quiet. Take the time to pay attention to the world around you. You just might be surprised at the simple, little things you start to notice.

Check your phone and email on a schedule. 

The truth about multitasking is that it actually doesn’t exist. When our brains are constantly jumping from one task to the next, it actually slows us down and makes us even less productive. A great daily life example of this is constantly having your email tab open and responding to emails at all times of the day.

In my own work routine, I am starting to see how always responding to emails all day long sometimes inhibits my effectiveness and creativity at work. I am currently experimenting with checking my emails only three times during the work day. Once when I arrive to my office, once after lunch, and then before I go home around 5 p.m. What will work for any given job may be slightly different,, but consider applying a version of the batch email routine to your day.

This same method could also be applied to text messages. Tell your friends and family, you’ll check texts at certain times during the day. So if it’s a true emergency—someone is gravely ill or dying, for example—they’ll know to call.

Set timers for daily use of favorite social media accounts.

 I have been using daily timers for my social media use consistently for about a year and a half. I find it particularly helpful for my favorite sites like Instagram and Facebook. I have noticed several things from doing this.

First, I choose to use my time on social media with a new level of intentionality. For example, now I only want to post a picture on Instagram when I actually have something important or lifegiving to say. I do not want to simply add to the noise online.

Second, I have better boundaries with how much I am online, and I find myself wasting less time. Doing so, opens up more time to spend my energy and focus on the things that really matter in my daily life.

We live in a culture of constant noise and stimulation: the beeps, dings, and constant notifications cause our souls to become agitated and restless. The more technologically advanced our world becomes, the more distracted we as people become. It is harder to find down time, enjoy the stillness, and give our brains a rest.

Of course, as humans we are creatures of habit, and most of us will not radically change overnight. It takes time, reflection, self-awareness, and practice. It’s okay to start small, perhaps by designating a few days a week to fostoring boredom and not worrying about it the other days.

Give boredom a chance in the manner that works best for you. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself and the world around you.