In our digital age, the tech detox is the new juice cleanse. Wellness experts and medical professionals alike remind us to put down our smartphones and step away from our screens for the sake of our mental and physical health. But as I recently learned from journalist and “Note to Self” podcast host Manoush Zomorodi, there’s another problematic side effect of constant connectivity: it keeps us from getting bored.
“Wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t that a good thing? Who wants to be bored?”
It turns out, as Manoush explains in her Bored & Brilliant podcast series and accompanying TED talk, that boredom affects our brains in a productive and valuable way: it sparks our imaginations (science backs her up). Think back to your childhood. In my house, if we kids complained that we were bored, my parents sent us to play outside. With no video games or devices to absorb our attention, we made up stories, games and activities to entertain ourselves. We used our imaginations – and imagination is the engine of creativity, whether you’re a kid playing in the backyard or an adult brainstorming for a big project at work.
The idea that boredom begets creativity presents an interesting catch-22 for those of us in the communications field: the nature of our jobs demands ever-increasing levels of connectivity, yet our clients count on us for the fresh ideas and creative thinking that are most likely to flourish when we let our minds wander.
As agency professionals, first and foremost, we are in the business of client service. Responsiveness to our clients’ needs and reporters’ requests is critical – and in today’s 24-hour news cycle, responses must be swift. In addition, as service providers, we are under continuous pressure to demonstrate value and deliver tangible results: securing an interview opportunity with a top-tier target publication, developing sharp and compelling campaign content, planning and executing events that will generate awareness and coverage for our clients, and more. It’s easy to adopt the mindset that if we’re not constantly busy, we’re not being productive, and if we’re not being productive, we’re not adding value.
But if you ask a prospective client what they’re looking for in a new agency, they will almost always cite creativity as one of their most sought-after attributesvalues. In my experience, the projects that generate the most praise and excitement from clients are the ones where we flex our creative muscles to come up with a fresh angle for a campaign or an unexpected solution to a stubborn problem. In order to deliver such inspired ideas, we must resist the temptation to remain constantly bogged down in the nitty gritty details of our day-to-day responsibilities.
To be clear, this isn’t an easy thing to do! Carving out time to “be bored” feels uncomfortable, and even a little lazy or self-indulgent. But if we want to do our best work as creative professionals and outstanding service providers, we as an industry need to better encourage the kind of thinking that sparks big, bold ideas and new perspectives. Exactly how to accomplish this will vary from person to person, but it doesn’t require a radical overhaul of your lifestyle or work routine: for example, Manoush suggests leaving your smartphone in your bag and letting your mind wander during your commute, rather than checking emails or listening to a podcast. And if you have a preferred creative outlet or pastime outside of work that helps you get into that imaginative headspace (I enjoy painting and running), make it a priority to block time on your calendar for those activities.
In this day and age, a full-fledged digital detox is an unreasonable stunt for most of us to attempt. Fortunately, you don’t need to abandon technology altogether to jump-start your creativity – you just need to give your brain a chance to get bored every once in awhile.