Feeling blocked and uninspired is not uncommon. The more you try to be creative, the more it seems to slip away from you. This can be the result of creative boredom. But what is creative boredom and how can you use it to your advantage?
Our minds seek novelty and when our work becomes routine, we fall into a state of creative unproductivity. Creative boredom is a kind of stagnation – like burnout that affects exclusively your creative process and your productivity, and leaves you feeling stuck.
The good news is that your brain probably just needs a break. Furthermore, you may even be able to learn to take that creative boredom that’s been weighing you down and affecting the quality of your work and use it to your advantage. Since boredom serves as a sign that our mind is craving something new, some of our most creative moments can be the result of moments and activities that feel tedious or monotonous. At work, we can do ourselves and our teams a world of good by prioritizing space for taking time off and letting our minds wander.
Boredom and its Connection to Creativity
Studies by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman at the University of Central Lancashire showed the creativity-boosting power of boredom through studies that involved boring their subjects by giving some of them tedious tasks before making them brainstorm uses for plastic cups. The results showed that the groups of people given the most tedious tasks were the ones with the most inventive results.
The kind of boredom felt during passive activities like long meetings, copying data, or even taking care of the daily tasks we can and often do on ‘autopilot’ heightens the “daydreaming effect.” This means that some of our most creative moments are sparked by those dull tasks and meetings that allow the mind to wander. However, for that to happen we need to unplug. Minds can’t really wander while scrolling through social media or listening to a podcast. In a way, the daydreaming requires a real pause – without any screens.
Yes, boredom can be great if you do it right. According to Sandi Mann, we are constantly “trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out, we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems.” This, she says, changes our tolerance for boredom and makes it harder to stop being bored.
Creative Boredom and Empty Time
So, if you’re dealing with creative boredom, how can you use it to your advantage? Well, it really is all about letting your brain rest from the oversaturation of everyday life. One of the best ways to do that is being intentional about your empty time. That means not only letting unproductive time just be unproductive but staying away from things like scrolling social media, podcasts, or playing your comfort show in the background while you do house chores.
It may seem counterintuitive, but taking a break is vital for our creative processes. Empty time is essential for recharging and refocusing, allowing you to take a step back from daily tasks and responsibilities and to daydream in a way that triggers creativity and lets the mind wander places where it wouldn’t otherwise. Those lulls are where great ideas spark up.
Some Tips to Fight Creative Boredom
1Take up new hobbies: Activities like dance, paint, pottery or cooking lessons will demand enough focus that it’ll be difficult to think about that project you’ve been feeling uninspired about. You can take up going for a short walk and just letting yourself experience the moment and your surroundings without obsessively checking your phone. If you’re a big reader, you can make sure you’re making some time to dive into a fantasy world where someone else is in control.
2Leave your phone behind: Reaching for our phones has become instinctive the second we’re bored. It’s hard to resist when it’s so easy to get lost watching videos, playing a game or scrolling aimlessly through social media. It won’t always be possible but whenever it is, try leaving your phone at the gym’s locker or maybe even just far from your bedroom at night. If leaving it behind is not an option resolve not to use it while you run that quick errand or walk the dog. Resist the urge to go straight to it while you’re waiting somewhere. Let your mind wander while you’re in line at the bank or waiting for a flight.
3Skip the music or podcasts: Not always, obviously. But doing some of the more tedious tasks of everyday life without being stimulated by music or listening to our favorite podcasts is great to let the mind wander and avoid creative boredom. Try doing things like washing the dishes, folding the laundry, or working out without them, it could lead to some of your most creative moments. If you’re out, try to connect with nature instead of blocking it out with an audiobook.