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About the book

It’s time to move “doing nothing” to the top of your to-do list. In 2015, Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s popular podcast and radio show ‘Note To Self’ led tens of thousands of listeners through an experiment to help them unplug from their devices, get bored, jumpstart their creativity, and change their lives. Bored and Brilliant builds on that experiment to show us how to rethink our gadget use to live better and smarter in this new digital ecosystem. Manoush explains the connection between boredom and original thinking, exploring how we can harness boredom’s hidden benefits to become our most productive and creative selves without totally abandoning our gadgets in the process. Grounding the book in the neuroscience and cognitive psychology of “mind wandering”—what our brains do when we’re doing nothing at all—Manoush includes practical steps you can take to ease the nonstop busyness and enhance your ability to dream, wonder, and gain clarity in your work and life. The outcome is mind-blowing. Unplug and read on.

Buy book: Amazon

Year published:  2017


Quotes from the book

Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self (Manoush Zomorodi)

  • To think original thoughts, we must put a stop to constant stimulation.
  • Boredom makes people keen to engage in activities that they find more meaningful than those at hand.
  • Our devices aren’t going anywhere; they are a permanent part of the modern world. Still, that doesn’t mean distraction has to be.
  • But the question is, what are you disconnected from? You’re actually constantly disconnected from yourself by having all of these things.
  • It makes me think of Marina Abramovic’s insight into people’s fear of handing over their devices before her musical concert: ‘You think that you are disconnected.
  • Boredom is the gateway to mind-wandering, which helps our brains create those new connections that can solve anything from planning dinner to a breakthrough in combating global warming.
  • Golden Krishna, an expert in user experience who currently works on design strategy at Google, astutely pointed out during one of our conversations that the only people who refer to their customers as ‘users’ are drug dealers—and technologists.
  • Golden Krishna, an expert in user experience who currently works on design strategy at Google, astutely pointed out during one of our conversations that the only people who refer to their customers as “users” are drug dealers—and technologists. Manoush Zomorodi,
  • This is what the Bored and Brilliant project is all about: losing a little of the tools that give us a lot in the way of information, immediate productivity, and assurance in order to regain some of the simplicity and wonder that lead to deeper creativity, insight, and calm.
  • When our minds wander, we activate something called the “default mode,” the mental place where we solve problems and generate our best ideas, and engage in what’s known as “autobiographical planning,” which is how we make sense of our world and our lives and set future goals.
  • Every time we respond to a ping or bubble, it takes twenty-three minutes and fifteen seconds, on average, to get back to what we were originally working on, according to Gloria Mark’s research! No wonder it often feels like a miracle when we complete any project or report at all.
  • Your instructions for today: Delete it. Delete *that* app.. You know which one is your albatross. The one you use too much. The one you use to escape—too often, at the expense of other things (including sleep). The one that makes you feel bad about yourself. Delete said time-wasting, bad-habit app. Uninstall it.
  • There are obviously different ways to daydream or mind-wander—and not all of them are productive or positive. In his seminal book The Inner World of Daydreaming, psychologist Jerome L. Singer, who has been studying mind-wandering for more than fifty years, identifies three different styles of daydreaming: poor attention control, guilty-dysphoric, positive-constructive.
  • The real casualty of all this distraction is the ‘deep work.’ In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport of Georgetown University’s computer science department defines the term as ‘the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.’ He writes that this ability, which allows for mastery of complicated information, is ‘one of the most valuable skills in our economy’ while at the same time becoming ‘increasingly rare.’
  • Research shows that great artists, scientists, and other types of creators have an abundance of dopamine in their system that allows them to deal with novelty,” Kaufman explained. In other words, they are extra-motivated to seek out the new and can then channel that novelty seeking into being creative. Kaufman calls dopamine “the mother of invention” and explains that because we have a limited amount of it, we must be judicious about choosing to spend it on “increasing our wonder and excitement for creating meaning and new things like art—or on Twitter.
  • Greg McKeown has made an entire business out of helping people figure out how they should spend their time. His leadership training company, This, Inc., works with high-level executives from Google, LinkedIn, and Pixar, helping them hone the precepts laid out in his bestselling book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown’s method is geared toward figuring out what matters most to you and ‘designing a life’ around that thing. He breaks the process down into three basic steps, the first of which is ‘to create space in our lives to figure out what is essential.’ Step two is to ‘eliminate all the nonessential activities.’ The third and last is to reallocate the resources that have been freed up and invest them in pursuing those things we’ve decided matter most.
  • The very first challenge in the Bored and Brilliant program is simply to take a good hard look at your true digital usage. Noticing and understanding your baseline behavior from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep is the first step in taking control of it. Without skipping a single battle on Clash of the Clans or a stalking session on Google, observe yourself and take notes. You can use an app, keep track on your device, or go old school with a pen or pencil and notebook. The important thing is to accurately report how often you check your phone. What are you checking—e-mail, social media, missed phone calls, directions, the weather? Do you read on your phone? What do you read—those long e-mails from your mom, The New York Times, or hashtags on Instagram? When do you pull it out most? Or is it always in your hand, even while walking down the street, waiting on line, between appointments, or in transit? Are you alone or do you use it when you’re in a meeting or with another person socially? Do you take it to the bathroom with you? These questions are just to get you thinking. Ask yourself whatever feels most relevant. The only requirement is that you answer honestly.
  • You could say that boredom is an incubator lab for brilliance. It’s the messy, uncomfortable, confusing, frustrating place one has to occupy for a while before finally coming up with the winning equation or formula. This narrative has been repeated many, many times. The Hobbit was conceived when J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor at Oxford, ‘got an enormous pile of exam papers there and was marking school examinations in the summer time, which was very laborious, and unfortunately also boring.’ When he came upon one exam page a student had left blank, he was overjoyed. ‘Glorious! Nothing to read,’ Tolkien told the BBC in 1968. ‘So I scribbled on it, I can’t think why, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” And so, the opening line of one of the most beloved works of fantasy fiction was born. Steve Jobs, who changed the world with his popular vision of technology, famously said, ‘I’m a big believer in boredom. … All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too.’ In a Wired piece by Steven Levy, the cofounder of Apple—nostalgic for the long, boring summers of his youth that stoked his curiosity because ‘out of curiosity comes everything’—expressed concern about the erosion of boredom from the kind of devices he helped create.
  • With so many big questions stemming from my central quandary, I dived into trying to understand what happens when we constantly keep our brains busy and never give ourselves time to mentally meander. I spoke with neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists about ‘mind-wandering’—what our brains do when we’re doing nothing at all, or not fully focused on a task. We may feel like we are doing very little when we endlessly fold laundry, but our brains are actually hard at work. When our minds wander, we activate something called the ‘default mode,’ the mental place where we solve problems and generate our best ideas, and engage in what’s known as ‘autobiographical planning,’ which is how we make sense of our world and our lives and set future goals. The default mode is also involved in how we try to understand and empathize with other people, and make moral judgments. When we let ourselves space out and our mind wander, we do our most original thinking and problem solving; without distraction, your mind can go to some interesting and unexpected places. Creativity—no matter how you define or apply it—needs a push, and boredom, which allows new and different connections to form in our brain, is a most effective muse. … According to Dr. Jonathan Smallwood, professor of cognitive neuroscience and an expert in mind-wandering at the University of York, ‘In a very deep way, there’s a close link between originality and creativity and the spontaneous thoughts we generate when our minds are idle.’ In other words, you have to let yourself be bored to be brilliant.