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Is 'Idle Time' Important To The Creative Process?

Updated: Mar 17

an illustration of a person day dreaming

Our Busy World

In our busy 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? 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.' 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.

Whether you decide to take your ideas out for a walk or sleep on them to come back with fresh eyes in the morning, letting go of the guilt of 'not doing anything' is sometimes easier said than done.

Be 'Weird' About It.

In 2008 (just before smartphones and Facebook became as widely used as they are today - in 2023) 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:

Creativity, book by John Cleese

Pilvi Takala Challenging more social norms in The Stroker

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