Bored? Don't worry, it's good for your creativity

Jun 5, 2014

Photo by Jae

"I loafe and invite my soul." - Walt Whitman

When was the last time you were bored?

Really bored, I mean. Personally, since having a smartphone, I’ve almost forgotten that intense feeling of boredom that I remember feeling as a young man.

But the question is: Is this a good or bad thing?

This week, Fast Company wrote about 2 recent studies that suggest our creativity might actually be suffering from our universal, smartphone-induced lack of boredom.

In the first study, conducted by psychologists Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman of the University of Central Lancashire, in the U.K., one group of subjects, the controls, were instructed to brainstorm around a given topic. The second group was instructed to do something painfully boring (in this case, read or copy names from a telephone directory) first, before taking part in the brainstorming activity.

There were two brainstorming activities. The first, which sounds like a challenge out of Whose Line is it Anyway?, was to come up with as many ideas as possible using two polystyrene cups. The second was to list as many possible consequences of “global narcolepsy” as possible.

According to Fast Company, “on both tasks, the participants who had been bored by the phone book came up with more ideas - and ideas judged to be more creative - than the controls.”

(Note to self: Next time you’re working on a creative project, read the phonebook first.)

The second study had participants watch random video clips. The clips were random - some exciting, relaxing, distressing, and boring. From there, subjects were given three words, and then tasked with assigning a fourth word that was in common with that group (pairing “paper” with the given words, “printer,” “clip,” and “cut,” for example.)

The result? The subjects who were unfortunate enough to be given the boring videos did better than those who watched the relaxing or distressing videos. Interestingly, they performed just as well as those who watched the exciting videos.

So what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s good to turn our brain off sometimes, without the use of our smart phones or the new Game of Thrones episode. As creative freelancers, our creativity is what pays our bills. We’re always hustling for new gigs, working on meeting deadlines, and juggling numerous gigs at once. With all of this going on, it’s easy to forget that our creative muscles need to be periodically latent.

Freelancers, how do you recharge your creative batteries?