Being bored is the worst, right? It’s a feeling that almost all of us try to avoid – and thanks to our smartphones, it’s a feeling that many of us hardly experience anymore. We check email while in an elevator, scroll through our social media feeds when our friends go to the bathroom, and binge Netflix when we can’t think of anything else to do. But although we’re hardly ever bored with the whole internet constantly at our fingertips, our brain’s are paying a price. According to Manoush Zomorodi’s latest book, Bored and Brilliant, being bored is a crucial part of our brain’s creative and problem-solving processes. By never being bored, we’re actually hurting our ability to think creatively and originally.
Manoush Zomorodi is the host and managing editor of “Note to Self,” “the tech show about being human,” from WNYC Studios. Every week on her podcast, Manoush searches for answers to life’s digital quandaries through experiments and conversations with listeners and experts. She has won numerous awards for her work. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and in spare moments, Manoush tweets from @manoushz and takes deep cleansing breaths.
So this week, we sat down with Manoush to learn a little more about how we can better manage our relationship with tech and why we should all spend a little more of our time being bored.
Firstly, what started it all for you? When did you realize that your relationship with technology was something that needed to be examined, monitored, and even actively sculpted?
I had a moment in 2014 when I was struggling more than usual to come up with original ideas for my podcast. That led me to a quest to pinpoint why it felt like I had sand in my brain! Turns out, looking at my phone, taking in and disseminating information non-stop, disrupts specific brain functions that facilitate original thinking. So, it was time to tweak my daily behavior.
What piece of research regarding boredom, technology, and creativity have you found most astounding?
When we get bored, we ignite a network in our brain called the default mode. Some scientists call it the imagination network, so when our body goes on auto-pilot—folding the laundry, or walking to work—our brain gets busy making connections between disparate ideas, finds solutions to nagging problems, and we do “autobiographical planning”…this is when we look back at what’s happened in our lives, catalog and take note of the big moments. That personal narrative helps us set future goals and plan the steps needed to accomplish them. Important stuff! But you can’t tap that brain power if you’re always tapping a screen.
When/where are you most/least productive and how does this shape your daily routine?
I belong to a silent workspace where I go once a week to do the work that requires uninterrupted thinking…for me, that’s writing.
I’m least productive early in the morning so I reserve that time for working out or answering emails or other “busy” work.
What are your biggest distractors?
My kids! Just kidding. I try not to work when I’m with my kids or parent when I need to be doing work. My brain gets exhausted switching back and forth between roles. It’s not easy though. My tech makes it possible for me to juggle it all.
What are some of the rules, boundaries, etc. regarding technology that you set for yourself to help preserve time for boredom?
EVERYTHING gets put on my To Do list and calendar, including thinking time, so I never waste time trying to figure out what I need to be doing. Reserving and prioritizing is key for me.
What resources/tools have you found most beneficial to your working/creative process?
Online, I use Pocket, ToDoIst, have colored coded shared calendars with my husband and producers. Google Docs and Dropbox keep all my scripts, notes, and presentations organized. IRL, I LOVE Post-It notes and white boards with lots of different colored markers.
What is something you have learned that you wish your younger self knew in regard to staying productive, creative, and focused?
Don’t confuse being responsive with being productive. Telling everyone what you’re working on and thinking doesn’t get the work finished.
What would you recommend as a first step for someone who wants to improve their relationship with technology, or put in another way someone who wants to be more creative/productive?
Believe it or not, a lot of people still have notifications turned on on their phone. Start there. Enjoy the quiet.
What project are you currently most excited about?
The turnout of enthusiastic, thoughtful, and insightful people on my book tour makes me think our culture is about to shift dramatically. The tech honeymoon is over in many ways but in terms of our daily habits, many tell me they’re tired of feeling like their gadgets are taskmasters telling them what to do or pay attention to all day long. They are ready to turn them back into tools that improve their lives!
To learn more about Manoush, Bored and Brilliant, or her podcasts, visit her site at Manoushz.com.