Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 4, 2011 7:57 PM

Bored

When do the best ideas strike?

Do the most original ideas come to you when you're working around the clock, not eating properly and struggling to sleep or when you are bored... bored stiff? Why do the best ideas hit you while you're in the shower? I have a theory (and it's probably going to ruffle some feathers): Being bored is fantastic for creativity. Have you ever played with a young child and you suddenly run out of ways to keep them stimulated? What's next? More often than not your creativity kicks in and you're able to pull together a grand adventure with some toilet paper rolls, a handful of pipe cleaners and elastic bands. What about when you're sitting around with friends on the deck and the small talk subsides? What comes next is usually some kind of fun game about stories or telling jokes that create the more powerful memories years down the line.

Get bored more often.

I'm often asked if I ever take a break. What most people fail to realize is that I spend a lot of my time bored. Not de-motivated. Not from a lack of something to do. Not because nothing gets me excited, but because I know that it is in those moments of boredom that some of the clearest and most lucid ideas come creatively crashing in on me. Spending my time scouring Blogs, Twitter feeds and RSS readers does not generate the best ideas for a concept for a client, Blog post, magazine article or book chapter. Those ideas usually strike when nothing else is happening. When it's quiet. When everything isn't flowing like a river of news in a real-time Web... but when I'm bored.

Boring isn't bad.

Sadly, most people believe that being bored is bad and dangerous. It's only that way if you're constantly in a slump (or a high school student without summer plans). Think about being bored in a much more pragmatic and proactive way: what would it take for you to bring yourself (and your mind) to a place where you have nothing to do or think about? Where there are no distractions (TV, Web, whatever) and to a place where you can just breathe, look around and have absolutely nothing to do?

You can be bored right now.

Close your computer. Shut down your mobile device. Turn off the television. Put on your shoes and walk over to a park. Don't sit near anybody. Sit by yourself. Don't bring anything with you. Nothing (not even a notebook). Try sitting there... and sitting still for an hour. You will be bored. You will spend the first 30 minutes recounting your past few days and all of the things you have to do at home and work. You'll then start thinking about all of the others things you would like to do (read a book, take your nephew out to a movie, etc...). You will... at some point... run out of things to think and worry about. You'll have nothing to do. You'll just sit there. Good. Sit there. Keep sitting. Sit there until you're no longer thinking about all of that stuff (including the part where you'll be thinking about why you're even sitting there in the first place)... sit there until you have nothing else to do. You will get bored. Once you're beyond bored, you'll see something will happen. Ideas will flow. You will get creative because you have nothing else to do. In that boredom you will find and create much more memorable times.

When people ask you, "aren't you bored?" Just smile and wish you were bored more often.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Amber Naslund
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch -

    Love this post. I don't even think it's about being bored so much as just allowing yourself to be idle. (I can do nothing and still not be "bored").

    But that's just semantics. The point is that allowing our own brains the time to just find their own path is drastically underrated. And I've had many a breakthrough moment - or the spark of one - in just those moments.

    Thanks for the reminder. :)

    Amber

    Reply
    • Posted by iivo hen
      Mitch Joel

      because I my smartphone timed out it's connection after I just written my comment and the string of thought are lost now, I'll just agree with Amber... And add any media consumption in large amounts tend to make you passive

      Reply
  • Posted by Arjun Basu
    Mitch Joel

    Perfect, Mitch. This is why I'm never really "doing nothing." since I often do my best work Shem I'm "doing nothing." it's also why I have a couch and a beanbag chair in my office. And a notepad next to my bed at home.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tuija Seipell
    Mitch Joel

    What I love most, that it requires only AN HOUR. We all waste much more than that every day, being busy, yet not really getting anything done. Thanks for the reminder, Mitch!

    Reply
  • Posted by Karen
    Mitch Joel

    I think we under-value silence in our society. "Silence" defined as stepping away from stimuli and just being. Creativity and clarity come from those gaps not from pursuit.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Hayes
    Mitch Joel

    Great post.

    Nice reminder to slow down and allow for creativity to develop.

    Reply
  • Posted by Christopher
    Mitch Joel

    too boring, didn't read.
    off to invent something amusing...

    Reply
  • Posted by Kneale Mann
    Mitch Joel

    Brilliant, Mitch and thank-you. We seem to have to fill every crevice of our grey matter with active thought. We can't possible allow ourselves to drift and wander. Walk into the creative department in an agency or media company and you will see a lot of busy work. Look at the desks. They are usually filled with stuffed animals, mini basketball nets, crayons, and various other toys that have absolutely nothing to do with any client's work.

    For years, I insisted everyone on the team take a day out where they spent company time doing nothing. Just thinking. Doing whatever they wanted to do. Inevitably a rush of ideas would return before they did, the next day at the office.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  • Posted by Joe Sorge
    Mitch Joel

    I can only say thank you.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jessica Malnik
    Mitch Joel

    Fantastic post, Mitch. We have all been trained to look and "be as busy" as possible. When in reality, there's probably several hours a week where we all looking "busy" but not accomplishing anything. . . meaningful. Sometimes, it just takes half an hour of nothingness- or pure daydreaming- to be the most creative and yes, even productive. Thanks for this great reminder.

    Reply
  • Posted by Virtual Agents
    Mitch Joel

    I like this post! Sometimes when we are bored we think of something else that is important to us. But is it really good to become bored?

    Reply
  • Posted by Bill Laidlaw
    Mitch Joel

    You could be right Mitch, whatever gem(s) you have come up with recently when bored, could be because you were (bored). It is also possible that you have been "fooled by randomness", seeing a pattern that is not really there? Who knows?

    Reply
  • Posted by Rich Palmer
    Mitch Joel

    I concur! I often find that my most creative moments come when I'm away from the office. My home office time is best. The kids are gone and my wife is at work. I turn off the radio, close the lid on the laptop and do just as you describe. Filtering through the worrisome tasks, the reflections on yesterday and then moving forward has always been best. Unfortunately, I sometimes want to create in ways that are non-work related. THAT is my challenge. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  • Posted by Marc Binkley
    Mitch Joel

    Great post Mitch. I've been traveling for the last 5 weeks in Spain while on Paternity leave. Since I've been away, I've noticed a progression in my thoughts similar to the one you've described above.

    (as a side note, you once wrote about the correct terminology for being online/in tune/connected - one way to define social/digital media is to describe what its like when you aren't tuned in - "disconnected" feels appropriate).

    I read yesterday that Gaudi was a very sick child. He had several bouts with rheumatic fever which kept him at home and away from other kids. Since Gaudi was recovering often alone, he had time to notice all the little things around him which he admits inspired some of his greatest works. Like the way snail shells and propeller leaves fall in spirals - these shapes inspired many of his staircases. The way tree trunks are grounded - these became the inspiration of the pillar footings at the Sagrada Familia. Daydreaming on Honeycombs led to his many unique explorations into hexagon building shapes for windows and tile patterns.

    You're right, being bored isn't a bad thing so long as one acts on the ideas that come from it.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ann Smyth
    Ann Smyth

    My best ideas normally come when I'm driving - preferably a decent distance so that I've moved into that autopilot zone where you're not 100% aware of what you are doing - or in the bath, or in that drowsy state just before sleep. Not bored, exactly, just more receptive to the ideas that are milling about below the surface.

    Reply
  • Posted by Laura Baker
    Laura Baker

    Mitch,
    Do you have kids--little ones? I long for an opportunity to be bored!
    Great post.

    Reply
  • Posted by ginevra
    ginevra

    You can also do this on a long commute, if you keep your phone in your bag...

    Reply
  • Posted by Yomar
    Mitch Joel

    As someone that is very rarely bored, I'd say Amber is right.. It's more about not becoming complacent and remembering to unplug. I've been meditating more, emptying my mind, and letting ideas naturally flow. I have a busy household so this quiet time is important, especially when you work from home and the distractions are abundant. For me, the ideas are virtually endless but this time let's me tune into what my soul is saying so I focus on the right stuff.. In short, I agree but Amber's take on it is more on the money. I look at it as mini vacations, moments when you can just be.

    Great thoughts here!

    Reply
  • Posted by Gordana Stok
    Mitch Joel

    My ideas don't come to me sitting in front of a computer. For me, the computer equals productivity, not creativity. You need to let your mind wonder and explore to be creative. So most of my ideas come to me in the early hours of the morning, or when I am sitting in a coffee shop, watching people come and go, and doodling using pen and paper.

    Reply
  • Posted by Johnny Russo
    Mitch Joel

    I recently started a new job, and take the train into work. Granted, I usually have a book in tow, but sometimes, I just look out the window and clear my head. I agree, Mitch, sitting there and being bored is often the best way for me to start my day chalk full of new ideas that come to be because of little or no distractions.

    Reply
  • Posted by Christine
    Mitch Joel

    One of my favourite posts by you. Really well said.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan Bischoff
    Mitch Joel

    Another way to explain this: meditation. Thanks for the reminder to meditate.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nate Guggia
    Mitch Joel

    Amazing! I was sitting on my couch yesterday bitching about how bored I was. I fall in to the trap of always needing to be doing something to feel productive. Hence, I can never relax. Especially as a business owner. This post could not have come at a better time. I'm sharing this for sure. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Posted by Laurinda Shaver
    Mitch Joel

    I am working very hard at having a flow to my day. This goes from intense concentration, to creative play, to family, to self. Sometimes you have been doing something for so long that you think that is the norm and that its working for you. Taking time to step back and re-evaluate is a good thing.

    Although, when I told a friend I decided to spend some time being bored, it took them half an hour to stop laughing. :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Kurt Munz
    Mitch Joel

    You could also go for a long run...

    Reply
  • Posted by Tobey Deys
    Mitch Joel

    interesting ... I don't think I have ever been bored when alone (I enjoy my company ;) I adore the opportunity for silence and disconnection

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I love this post because so many people promote that you need to be busy 24/7 and involved in as many things as possible in order to enhance your creativity and new idea generation.

    I also agree with Amber, being idle works for me, usually just before I fall asleep. That is why I keep my phone within arm's reach so I can jot down notes or add a task to my planner for the next day!

    Reply
    • Posted by Nate Guggia
      Mitch Joel

      Thank you Jennifer. Great ideas and insight....again :) I'm going to try formatting a schedule for my day tomorrow that builds in reading, relaxing, idea formulating along with the other work I want to accomplish. I want to see how this will feel and if it can help me flow more.

      Reply
  • Posted by GaryFPatton
    Mitch Joel

    Thank you for sharing your insight, Mitch! Yours is and interesting concept.

    And, I feel taking a shower is quicker & more fun with a guaranteed result when you pray and ask God to share what creativity He'd like to share.

    Blessings,
    Gary

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    Love the spin you took with this one. Definitely agree, in our "more is better–need to be/or look busy" society, it's hard to just sit and do nothing.

    In my experience, when you take a breather and give yourself space not only do ideas come to you easier, but you actually begin to see opportunities around you, which you probably would have missed otherwise (while in busy mode).

    I recently picked up the book Buddhism: plain and simple by Steve Hagen. It's great for spelling out how being aware can create better results. I've also tried doing things like yoga, which force me to slow down and focus on nothing else but what you're doing in the moment.

    Anyways, just my two cents on the subject.

    Here is to being bored more often and loving it!

    Mitch

    Reply
  • Posted by Lucas Wilk
    Mitch Joel

    What a great post Mitch. And I agree, the world needs more boredom for sure.

    Reply
  • Posted by nLif
    Mitch Joel

    great post ! Let's slow down and reduce our media consumption.

    Reply
  • Posted by Scott Webb
    Mitch Joel

    This is a great reminder of my past. I used to do thus kind of exercise. I would sit on a bench with no agenda. Thank you for this.

    I wish I was bored more often. Time to schedule it in

    Reply
  • Posted by Justin Scott
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch - provocative post.

    This may work very well for you, and I encourage you to as bored as you like ;)

    For me, I get a lot of the "sparks" of my inspiration for clients, and for my own dealings, from reading. I read books, blogs, articles, news, watch videos and lots more as much as possible. This opens my minds, alerts me to what's going on and helps me identify and work with patterns.

    To be honest, though, sparks are not enough. The truly great work of mine comes from a spark that is reflected upon. I spend 30min-1hour a day just thinking about some key things that I have come across recently and from there ideas form concepts, concepts turn into business models and so on.

    Just thought, I would offer an alternative to your perspective. Great post and thanks for keeping my mind open :)

    Justin

    Reply
  • Posted by Kablizzle
    Mitch Joel

    Everytime i get bored, i get curious, and that usually leads to some sort of experiment, my wife don't like it lol. but it's fun! and honestly teaches me a ton ( trial and error style )

    Reply
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