Why Do You Need Boredom, Distraction, and Procrastination in Your Life?
Most of us – no matter how many time-saving techniques we use – don’t have enough time to waste. But performance comes at a price: downtime is very rewarding. We are constantly struggling with boredom, distraction and a postponement until later, but it does not mean that you have to completely get rid of them.
Blast From The Past is a weekly feature on Lifehacker in which we bring old but still relevant posts to life for your reading and hacking enjoyment. This week we remember the holy trinity of inaction.
It might sound a little counterintuitive to suggest that someone relax, but in fact, it’s just as important to your brain health as sleep. Boredom, procrastination, and distraction all help your brain function. In turn, you understand the solutions better. It’s easier for you to learn. You are even better at fostering creativity and productivity. Let’s look at this holy trinity of inaction from the perspective of both science and creative people.
How boredom promotes creativity and positive behavior
Judging by the millions of children’s books, it is well known that boredom leads to all sorts of harm. However, in a sense, boredom is a necessary filter that we all need when there is too much information in front of us. The New York Times explains it this way :
Some experts say that people disconnect from things for good reasons, and that over time, boredom becomes a sorting tool – an increasingly sensitive spam filter. In various fields, including neuroscience and education, research shows that falling into trance numbness allows the brain to remake the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative, at least as often as destructive.
It is this boredom that the comedy writer Graham Linehan embraces in his creative ritual. In an interview with The Guardian, Linehan describes his process :
I have to use all these programs that turn off the internet, make me bored, because boredom is an important part of writing, and the internet makes boredom very difficult. There is so much to do – it’s funny because I’m more creative, but I write less. I am trying to balance this for the moment. It’s complicated.
Psychology Today also notes that boredom is a stepping stone to more and better :
Once we’ve discovered the idea that boredom can be the first step towards creative productivity, it becomes apparent pretty quickly when those unoccupied, uninterested moments are actually a mind bringing a blank canvas to your psychological easel, ready to get you started drawing. …
The argument is that boredom gives you a blank slate to work with . This is supported by research from the University of Limerick, which suggests that boredom can lead to more prosocial behavior because it pushes you towards meaningful activities. Boredom on a large scale can be a sign of depression, but turning off the world for a while each day is a good way to help sort it out. Photo by Monica Kaneko .
How distraction and focus work together
Boredom is on its own, but one of the side effects of some types of boredom is another productivity killer: distraction and inattention. We get distracted easily – so easily that there is a whole ecosystem of apps and browser extensions to help you minimize distractions . However, distraction is a boon to creative thinking because it allows you to think outside the box.
Comprehension problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where “distraction” can come in handy. During off-peak times, we are less focused and can view a wider range of information. This wider range gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thereby stimulating innovation and understanding. Indeed, [research] showed that participants were more successful at solving comprehension problems when tested at sub-optimal times.
Distractions are not only necessary for creative people and problem solvers, they are important for you to focus. NY Magazine explains :
Concentration is a paradox: it has a built-in distraction. The two are symbiotic; they are systole and diastole of consciousness. Attention comes from the Latin “to stretch” or “to reach out to”, “distraction” – from “stretch”. We need both. In their extreme forms, focus and attention can even return and flow into each other.
Ideas, published in the Journal of NY Magazine, supported by research journal Journal of Neuroscience, which suggest that daydreaming improves focus, creating neural connections further action. In short, if you get distracted and let your mind wander, then in the long run you will actually become smarter and more focused. You don’t have to stop in the middle of a productive moment and surf the Internet, but once you find yourself distracted, you don’t always have to fight it. Photo by Ben and Kaz Askins .
Why procrastination helps you make better decisions
Procrastination is productivity killing for everyone, but it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, procrastination is an integral part of human existence and actually helps a lot when making decisions.
In his book Wait: The Art and Science of Procrastination, author Frank Partnoy suggests that procrastination is integral to making good decisions. He also offers a simple two-step method for making good decisions and achieving happiness. He calls it “don’t do anything, stay there.” In a presentation at the Royal Society for the Promotion of Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce (RSA), Partna outlines her process :