Embracing Boredom

by Taylor Slattery | June 22, 2020

Embracing Boredom

Unless you’ve dropped out of society, in which case I’m jealous, chances are your life is governed by routine. Routines aren’t exciting. In fact, they’re boring by nature, hence why we describe something as having “become routine” once its initial novelty has worn off. It’s no surprise really, it’s human nature to seek novelty.

While routines aren’t the most exciting thing in the world, it’s hard to argue their efficacy. They yield results. If you want to get better at something, the only way to do so is through consistent effort over time. Routines allow us to make progress in whatever we set out to do. But are there diminishing returns?

As with everything, moderation is key. Even with work and our personal pursuits. Routines can become counterproductive and even dangerous if left unchecked. Over the course of our lives and careers, it’s natural for our number of responsibilities to grow. Unfortunately, the amount of time in a day does not.

Work ethic is heavily romanticized within our culture. Be it at school, the office, or the 24/7 grinding entrepreneurs of Youtube ads, it’s not uncommon for people to share how little sleep they’ve gotten as if it’s a testament to how hard they’re working. Granted, they may, in fact, be working very hard, in which case, all the power to them. However, an unhealthy work and life balance can undermine your efforts entirely, especially for those in creative fields.

Ironic, don’t you think? Spending long amounts of time on creative work makes you less creative? It’s true though. Do you remember the last time you had a great idea? What were you doing at that time? Were you sitting in front of a blank piece of paper, trying to think of a great idea, or were you doing something mundane, like washing dishes or going for a walk?

It should come as no surprise that when you’re tired, your work suffers. But as it turns out, boredom is actually incredibly beneficial for creative thinking. Many studies have been conducted on the subject, but the most famous study involved participants copying down numbers from a phonebook before being presented with a pair of plastic cups. The participants were then asked to list as many possible uses for the cups they could think of. When compared with the control group, who had not completed a boring task prior to being presented with the cups, the group who had copied phone numbers showed a large increase in creativity.

So what does this mean for you? Should you start copying down phone numbers the next time you’re in a creative drought? Maybe. But more importantly, it means you should embrace boredom. Particularly in times like these, when we’ve got a lot of time on our hands. If you’re unable to work, you’ve now got around 8 extra hours every day to occupy.

It can be tough to find productive ways to fill that time, but you don’t necessarily have to. Boredom is good for you. We live in a state of constant stimulation. When we’re riding the train, waiting in line, or even sitting on the toilet, our phones are in our hands. Being bored and scrolling through Instagram are not the same thing. The next time you catch yourself reaching for your phone, resist the urge. Simply sit back, and be bored.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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