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How Important Is Idle Time?

(audio coming soon!)

Our Busy World

In our busy, productive and hard working world where you could and probably feel like you should be doing something to achieve your absolute best, is it possible to find the time and space to switch our brains off from the noise?

Every moment is cram packed with noise to keep us company or entertained, can we find a way to create silence to allow our brains to just chill out for a while and breathe a little bit?! And why would that be important to the creative process?

'Idle time' and 'Productive Meditation'

I first heard of the idea of 'idle time' from singer James Bay on the Diary of a CEO podcast (9 mins in). Being creative whilst doing nothing sounds a bit like cheating the system- tell me more!

Bay talks about how to 'sit around with the tools nearby and just exist... and think... and dream... and play.' It feels like gaining permission to make that creative brain space in our busy day to day life.

In another way, Cal Newport talks of 'productive meditation' in his book Deep Work. To sit and purposely thinking about an idea, whilst giving it the attention and space to develop. At the same time, being aware of when your attention drifts away, so that you can pull it back to the problem you were trying to solve.

Letting go of the guilt of 'not doing anything' is easier said than done.

Take your ideas for a walk

There's also a lot to be said for sleeping on a problem as well as taking your ideas for a walk too. In his book Creativity, John Cleese talks about putting the work in before bed and then having 'a little creative idea overnight', (I like to think of this like overnight oats). Using the day time to collect the ingredients and then allowing them to marinade overnight to give you a tasty idea in the morning. By taking your ideas out for a walk, you give your mind the chance to follow the rhythm of your footsteps and to wonder off down different paths.

Quiet Time

I use the commute to and from my freelance job to enjoy some quiet time and 'brain space.' I turn the radio off and I can't be distracted by my phone, so I sit and enjoy the world going by and let my thoughts drift around.

Like I mentioned in my blog post about 'single-tasking,' I have to remind myself to have some 'idle time' every now and then to stop the chaos whirlwind of trying to do everything at once.

Be 'Weird' About It.

As creatives, I'm sure we're used to being seen as strange for the things we do. Who else would be challenging the social norms if we're not?. In 2008, Finnish artist Pilvi Takala created an art installation called The Trainee. The artist spends time at a desk 'doing brain work'- to her colleagues it looks as if she's seemingly not doing anything at all and that starts to make them uncomfortable. The installation quietly threatens social norms and questions how 'masking laziness in apparent activity and browsing Facebook during working hours belong to the acceptable behavioural patterns of a work community'.

Taking part in your idle time might just question social norms, it might frustrate others that you're not doing something in particular. Guard this idle time and be weird about it. Try to get as much of it as you can, it's very important to the creative process.

Do you have a favourite place or time to squeeze in some idle time? In the car? On the bus? In the bath? Just in the middle of the afternoon, in your favourite chair, just because you can?

If you have a friend who might enjoy this kind of discussion, feel free to share this with them or if you have any thoughts on this subject please do leave a comment or drop me an email. To keep up with the latest blog posts, join my monthly round up here.


More interesting bits:

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the attention economy by Jenny Odell

The Guardian article by Elle Hunt. 'Jenny Odell on why we need to learn to do nothing: ‘It's a reminder that you're alive’

Pilvi Takala Challenging more social norms in The Stroker

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