Featured image of post Be Bored, Create More

Be Bored, Create More

In which I reflect on how boredom sparks creativity and how hard it is to be bored these days

I was reflecting on my relationship with boredom the other day. And I realised that I was pretty much running away from it!

I can’t let two minutes of idleness pass by without grabbing my smartphone. When I don’t reach in my pocket subconsciously, almost as a reflex, my attention gets derailed by a notification.

On average, I have picked up my phone 138 times a day, over the last three weeks. This means I pick up my phone roughly every 7 minutes (granted that I sleep 8 hours a day).

It feels like the only place where I can actually get bored now is my shower, because that’s the only place I don’t have my phone!

Being bored, trully bored, completely idle has become a conscious choice, in my life 1.

I decided to get bored for 60 minutes

📌 This section is an excerpt from my notebook that I wrote during this 60 minutes experiment.

As an exercise, I have set a timer of 60 minutes on my phone. I am allowed to either write, or do nothing. That’s one trick that Neil Gaiman, writer of Stardust, American Gods and co-writer of Good Omens, applies to fuel his creativity (watch this snippet from Tim Ferriss’ interview of Neil Gaiman).

I am sat at a high table, at a pub in skyscraper-covered Canary Wharf, in London. All Too Well by Taylor Swift is playing on the loudspeakers. I am sipping a non-alcoholic beer, while scribbling in my notebook, with my Parker fountain pen, with the firm intention to get bored.

Looking around and paying attention

Three people from the staff are chatting behind the bar. Things are pretty quiet right now. It’s Sunday, 6.40pm, in one of the financial and corporate districs of London. Every now and then, a couple of clients come to the bar, asking for a taster of one of the several beers they have on tap.

I decided to stop writing and do nothing for five whole minutes. It went faster than what I anticipated. I was mesmerized by the spinning cylinder of what seems to be a slushy machine. I noticed that the floor was made of green hexagonal tiles. I had never paid attention to this before.

My phone is on airplane mode, right now, so I know I won’t get disrupted by notifications. Every now and then, I reach for it, and then realise that it’s moot: I will have nothing new to check until I disable airplane mode.
Still, I can tell this behaviour is automatic. I don’t even think about grabbing my phone. I realise what’s happening once it’s already in my hand, unlocked.

Starting to think about what else I could be doing

I am starting to think about what else I could be doing, right now.

For example, I could be looking for new songs for this new music playlist I started. I would also like to find some cool cover art for it. What would it look like? I begin brainstorming ideas in my mind.
I want to explore making public music playlists. Like mixtapes. It’s a creative act, it prompts me to refine my music taste, and it will help me (and others) find music matching a specific mood, or emotion.

It’s funny how my mind wanders off and starts picturing all the things I could be doing right now, if I wasn’t getting bored on purpose.

Boredom is uncomfortable. But it also sparks a bit of creativity. It makes me curious. About myself. About others. Why are they here? How do they feel? It makes me curious about my surroundings. It helps me notice things.

Time’s up!

It’s been an hour, now. I wrote about two pages on my notebook. I have been asking myself questions. It fuelled mental images of things I would like to do. It got me excited, it helped me project.
Not once did I spiral about stuff that worry me. That’s good!

Leveraging boredom is a choice

These days, leveraging boredom is a choice. When bored, I will reach for my smartphone, sort of shutting down the creative part of my brain.
When I scroll on my phone, I don’t really think that much. Sometimes I will come across something inspiring, but most of the time, I am just occupying my mind.

I want to let my thoughts roam free. Let the creative side of my mind problem-solve this boredom for me.

I might come up with a cool creative project. Mentally picture my next hiking trip. Or build a list of groceries to buy on the way home.
Worst case scenario, I will have noticed something I hadn’t paid attention to before.

Be more curious!

  1. I live in London, in the United Kingdom, in 2024, and can afford modern technology. ↩︎

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