Creativity requires periods of idleness (quotes)


Busyness is kryptonite for creativity


We live in a society obsessed with busyness

  • The trouble with people nowadays is that they don’t know how to do nothing. Iris Murdoch
  • Our contradictory fear of being idle, together with our preference for sloth, may be a vestige from our evolutionary history. For most of our evolution, conserving energy was our number one priority because simply getting enough to eat was a monumental physical challenge. Today, survival does not require much (if any) physical exertion, so we have invented all kinds of futile busyness. Given the slightest or even a specious reason to do something, people will become busy. People with too much time on their hands tend to become unhappy or bored. Andrew Smart
  • Our tendency is to fill every minute with activity. We seem to have a fear of empty space. Just as an emptied drawer doesn’t stay empty long, so freed-up time doesn’t stay free long. If there’s a pause in a conversation, we’re quick to fill it. If we ask a question and there’s no immediate response, we answer it ourselves. If we’re waiting in a line-up, we grab for our smartphone to check email or send a quick text message. Harold Taylor
  • We live in a world where we are afraid of being idle for fear of being deemed lazy. Not only that, but busyness is considered a status symbol. If every waking minute is accounted for by something, you’re somehow important. This is backwards. People prefer to be idle but in modern society the time for it seems to be on a decline—and we are more apt to feel guilty for nothing.” Why do we continue to fear something that is proven to be good for us? Lawton Ursrey
  • The problem is that many of us can go entire days without putting our brains on idle. At work, we’re intensely analyzing problems, organizing data, writing—all activities that require focus. During downtime, we immerse ourselves in our phones while standing in line at the store or lose ourselves in Netflix after hours. We need to find ways to give our brains a break. If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift.  Emma Seppälä
  • We live in a productivity-obsessed age where we streamline our lives with the efficiency of assembly lines, devoting our every minute, every second to the capitalist task of “getting things done.” Today some ten-year-olds have busier schedules than corporate CEOs.  Hour after hour is crammed with basketball games and ballet classes, play dates and piano.  The problem?  In our rabid race to achieve, we leave little time for idleness.  We all need “time freed from time”— respite from the relentless hamster wheel of duty and obligation.  Savoring a cup of chamomile tea, unwinding in a hot bath, lounging on a languid summer afternoon with nothing pressing to do and no set plans: such idle moments are restful commas in a hurried sentence. Asia Lenae

However, the truth is that busyness can be kryptonite for creativity

  • ‘Busy’ destroys creativity. Daniele Fiandaca
  • Being time-strapped can be kryptonite for creativity.  Steven Kotler
  • Happiness research shows the biggest obstacle to creativity is being too busy. Arinze Obiezue
  • Busyness destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional well-being, your ability to be social— and it can damage your cardiovascular health. Andrew Smart
  • Busy takes away from our exploratory state, which is essential to creativity. Curiosity is at the heart of creativity and people need time to feed that curiosity. Daniele Fiandaca
  • Our lives are being filled with so much activity that we no longer have time to think creatively. The old adage that “busyness is not effectiveness” never applied more than it does today – when we are working longer and faster, and multitasking more frequently. Harold Taylor
  • Engaging creatively requires hitting the reset button, which means carving space in your day for lying around, meditating, or staring off into nothing. This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a red light—you’re reaching for your phone. Your brain’s attentional system becomes accustomed to constant stimulation; you grow antsy and irritable when you don’t have that input. You’re addicted to busyness. Derek Beres

Creativity requires idleness


Creativity requires periods of idleness

  • Creativity is the residue of time wasted. Albert Einstein
  • An idle mind will seek a toy. Sebastian Lindemann
  • Idle minds breed magnificent thoughts. Melinda Bryce
  • Creativity requires a space of idleness, of being still. Helen Cammock
  • The art of idleness is a powerful skill to develop because this is where creativity lives. Fiona Campbell
  • Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. Virginia Woolf
  • What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? Ferris Jabr
  • Our brains are at their most innovative when they are resting, so why aren’t we making time for quiet reflection? Elle Metz
  • Extra sleep, time for hobbies and retreat from mundane cares restore the body and mind and promote creativity. Ingrid Nelson
  • Down time is where we become ourselves… a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity. Anna Quindlen
  • Neuroscience shows blocks of disconnected quiet time have a profound effect on our thinking and creativity.   Jessica Stillman
  • ‘Alas! I do not believe that inspiration falls from heaven. I think it rather the result of a profound indolence. Jean Cocteau
  • Everyone brags about hustling, productivity, and the perfect morning routine. But it could be that doing nothing, and letting your mind just wander, might be the missing link in being more creative. Fernando Gros
  • Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity. Ferris Jabr
  • You are at your creative best when you are free to think. Sometimes it’s when you’re in the shower or waiting for a bus. Maybe your next big idea came to you when you were looking up at the dark skies pondering the stars. Anders Vanderkool
  • Many scientists and creative thinkers have noted that the mind’s best work is sometimes done without conscious direction, during receptive states of reverie, idle meditation, dreaming, or transition between sleep and wakefulness. Roger Shepard
  • In order to be more creative and more engaged, we need to unplug. Be idle. This theory, backed by science, is a great discovery for free thinkers. Encouraging creativity by doing “nothing” means we have a lot to look forward too—and less to apologize for. Lawton Ursrey
  • Being lazy does not mean that you do not create. In fact, lying around doing nothing is an important, nay crucial, part of the creative process. It is meaningless bustle that actually gets in the way of productivity. All we are really saying is, give peace a chance. Tom Hodgkinson
  • The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. Tim Kreider
  • I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. Brenda Ueland
  • The more I thought about the notion of labour and what it means to create something, the more it made sense to me that creativity requires a space of idleness, of being still. I sit in my bed every morning and stare out of the window for as long as I possibly can before I have to get up. Helen Cammock
  • Sadly, in our accomplishment-manic society, we find it hard to tolerate the idleness so crucial to creativity. To write, to paint, you need long stretches of seeming un-productivity.  Or as poet Mary Oliver so elegantly phrased, “a place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.” Asia Lenae
  • Idleness and creativity are related. It’s the periods of inactivity that lead to the creative bursts and it’s the tension between these poles that make them work. If you look to the natural world, you can see it supplies you with the metaphors to help explain this – there are periods of frantic activity and periods of dormancy. Know what season you are in, do the work that is appropriate to that season and live accordingly. Ali Abdaal
  • It is generally recognized that creativity requires leisure, an absence of rush, time for the mind and imagination to float and wander and roam, time for the individual to descend into the depths of his or her psyche, to be available to barely audible signals rustling for attention. Long periods of time may pass in which nothing seems to be happening. But we know that kind of space must be created if the mind is to leap out of its accustomed ruts, to part from the mechanical, the known, the familiar, the standard, and generate a leap into the new. Nathaniel Branden

During idleness, the default mode network of the brain fires up which helps us make creative connections

  • Creative thinking is part of our brain’s default mode network. Derek Beres
  • Aha moments will occur when you disconnect because the Default Mode Network is processing reflective thoughts of yourself, spatial ideas, and visual information—when you’re busy that activity is suppressed. Lawton Ursrey
  • With the right kind of distraction the default mode network may be able to integrate more information from a wide range of brain regions in more complex ways than when the brain is consciously working through a problem. Tim Kreider
  • You know those moments of brilliance in the moments you least expect—when you’re not focused on something in particular—in the middle of the night, in the shower, when you’re relaxing outside. There you have it. That’s the Default Mode Network or Resting State Network. These are the moments of idleness that produce creative ideas—your aha moments. Lawton Ursrey
  • When people wakefully rest, their minds wander, and they engage a so-called default mode (DM) of neural processing that is relatively suppressed when attention is focused on the outside world. Accruing evidence suggests that DM brain systems activated during rest are also important for active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
  • When you think of all the reasons you cannot become idle, remember how science has proven it’s importance to your health and adapt your lifestyle accordingly. Be mindful of this each week. The result will be a smarter, more productive brain, you’ll feel a slowing of the hours, and you’ll be able to get more done. This is the paradox behind engaging your Default Mode Network more. Lawton Ursrey
  • Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime. Tim Kreider
  • The Default Mode Network of your brain becomes more organized and engaged in idleness. While you may consider yourself being idle—spacing out, not focusing on any one thing—your brain is never truly idle. In fact, it may work harder when you’re not working at all. Remember hearing that we only use 10% of our brains? What science has revealed is that we use all of our brain, just not in the ways many people assume. Lawton Ursrey
  • Basically, the ‘default mode network’ is where the brain goes to when the hyper-alert focused state of conscious directed thinking switches off. Our mind drifts. Thoughts and ideas and images flow through our mind’s eye in a loosely connected stream-of-consciousness. This state-of-mind is characterised by a fluid and non-linear mode of thinking that makes unexpected connections and intuitive leaps that can lead to sudden and unexpected epiphanies of understanding. Kate Forsyth
  • Going for a walk, bike ride or even taking a shower does just enough to distract the prefrontal cortex (which generally deals with decisions) from trying to come up with ideas. It flips your brain into autopilot mode, allowing your medial prefrontal cortex (which deals with association, context, events and emotional responses) to wonder freely and connect all those interesting cultural nuggets you’ve let into your life. By ‘turning down’ your prefrontal cortex activity you are allowing yourself to hear these subtle connections.” Hugh Garry

Our brain actually becomes more active during idleness than when we do cognitive tasks

  • Your brain uses more energy during rest than during actual activities. Lawton Ursrey
  • Many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Jessica Stillman
  • The areas of the brain connected with creativity, introspection, and abstract thought are more active when you’re not trying to carry out cognitive tasks, or when you’re not worrying about work, than when you do. It follows that a period of inactivity can help generate ideas and lead to original thoughts and insights. Christina Colli
  • In a recent thought-provoking review of research on the default mode network, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her co-authors argue that when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes… Tim Kreider
  • Even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Tim Kreider
  • When we are busiest, our brains are not necessarily doing very much. Conversely, when we take a break and engage in some apparently mindless pursuit like playing solitaire, walking, or shoveling snow, our problem-solving brains kick into overdrive. We may perceive ourselves as taking a mental break but the problem-solving brain never rests. Indeed, the problem-solving parts of the brain are found to be more active when we daydream. Nigel Barber
  • The evidence connecting daydreaming and idleness with creativity is strong. Idleness allows ideas to incubate and gives us time to recover. It gives our minds a chance to change their process and to access broader understandings of who we are and the challenges we face. Rather than doing nothing when we are idle, our brain actually becomes more active, increasing blood flow and becoming more organised. This default, or resting, state is more likely to produce creative ideas, or ‘a-ha moments’, than when are just plugging away at a task. Fernando Gros
  • Brain activity is measured by blood flow and how oxygenated the blood is in a specific region of the brain. It used to be assumed that when the brain wasn’t performing a specific task there would be just noise in the brain—nothing happening. Neurologist Marcus Raichle found that when subjects performed specific tasks, activity in certain brain regions, like the hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex, and the precuneus, was suppressed. This was an odd conclusion, so Raichle decided to test further subjects but didn’t give them a specific task to complete. The result was that the exact same regions that deactivated during concentration become super active when not focused on a specific task—this means increased blood flow in your brain—this means a healthier, happier, more creative brain. In neuroscience, this network of brain regions that become so active during idleness is referred to as the Default Mode Network (DMN) or the Resting State Network (RSN).  Lawton Ursrey

The unconscious processing of the brain is more powerful than its conscious processing

  • Your ability to process information consciously is much less than your ability to process information unconsciously. That is why solutions to a problem ‘spring to mind’ when you stop thinking about it consciously and let your ‘unconscious’ do the work.  Fiona Campbell

As a result, we often come up with our best ideas when we are idle

  • Your next big idea is one ‘Idle’ break away. Emma Seppala
  • I always have my best thoughts on the toilet. Charlie Day
  • Isn’t it after a period of calm and quiet that we often come up with our greatest ideas? Melinda Bryce
  • What we write today slipped into our souls some other day when we were alone and doing nothing. Leo Tolstoy
  • Most of us have aha moments while doing mundane things like washing the dishes where we don’t have to focus too hard on the task at hand which allows space in our psyche to receive and reveal new information. Bianca L. Rodriguez
  • Non-time, in other words, helps us relax enough to see the big picture and allow innovative ideas to bubble to the surface. The hustle and bustle of daily life — or even your well-intentioned morning yoga class — can scare shy, gawky newborn ideas away.   Jessica Stillman
  • Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci, asked the question, “Where are you when you get your best ideas?” The answer was seldom “At work.” It was usually “While walking, taking a shower, listening to music” or some other non-work-related activity. Making work your whole life is detrimental to your work. Harold Taylor
  • What comes into your consciousness when you are idle can often be reports from the depths of your unconscious self— and this information may not always be pleasant. Nonetheless, your brain is likely bringing it to your attention for a good reason . Through idleness, great ideas buried in your unconsciousness have the chance to enter your awareness. Andrew Smart
  • People usually get their best ideas, not when they are busy working, but while relaxing at home, on vacation or just before dozing off at night. You are not doing yourself a favor by skipping lunches or vacations or continually multitasking. Make time for creative thinking by going for long walks, taking regular breaks, having leisurely lunches and keeping normal hours. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself staring at the sky or watching steam rise from your coffee. That’s when you might get your best ideas. And it’s good for your health as well. Harold Taylor
  • So you see the imagination needs moodling,— long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas, such as: ‘I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.’  But they have no slow, big ideas.  And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from the office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning. Brenda Ueland

In fact, many of history’s greatest breakthroughs and creative ideas came from minds in a state of idleness

  • Albert Einstein was a lifelong sailor who insisted that many of his best ideas came to him while he was floating around doing nothing and enjoying his own non-time. Jessica Stillman
  • Would the Universal Law of Gravitation have been discovered if Sir Isaac Newton had been running past the tree texting on his mobile when an apple fell from a tree? Even Archimedes was in his bath when he had his ‘Eureka’ moment!  Fiona Campbell
  • The world’s greatest minds made important discoveries while not doing much at all. Nikola Tesla had an insight about rotating magnetic fields on a leisurely walk in Budapest; Albert Einstein liked to chill out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions. Derek Beres
  • According to legend, it was while lazing in bed and staring at a fly on the ceiling that Descartes, habitually a late riser, conceived of the “X” and “Y” axes that comprise the coordinate grid, now the bane of so many grade-schoolers who lose sleep studying its properties. Andrew Smart
  • And author J.K. Rowling? The idea for Harry Potter first popped into her head when she was waiting for a delayed train. She didn’t even have a pen to take notes. “I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me,” she wrote on her blog. Emma Seppala
  • Throughout time, idleness has been behind all human progress. The most noteworthy human achievements— the greatest art, the most pioneering ideas of philosophy, the spark of every epoch-making scientific breakthrough— were conceived in leisure, be it Alexander Graham Bell solving the puzzle of the harmonic telegraph while strolling through a bluff overlooking the Grand River or Mozart noting that is was during promenades in the park that his ideas flowed most “abundantly.”    Asia Lenae
  • History shows that many changemakers have come up with novel ideas while letting their minds wander. In 1881, for example, famed inventor Nikola Tesla had fallen seriously ill on a trip to Budapest. There, a college friend took him on walks to help him recover. As they were watching the sunset on one of these walks, Tesla suddenly had an insight about rotating magnetic fields—which would in turn lead to the development of modern day’s alternating current electrical mechanism. Emma Seppala
  • History shows that many famous inventors have come up with novel ideas while letting their minds wander. In 1881, for example, famed inventor Nikola Tesla had fallen seriously ill on a trip to Budapest. There, a college friend, Anthony Szigeti, took him on walks to help him recover. As they were watching the sunset on one of these walks, Tesla suddenly had an insight about rotating magnetic fields—which would in turn lead to the development of modern day’s alternating current electrical mechanism. Similarly, Friedrich August Kekulé, one of the most renowned organic chemists in 19th-century Europe, discovered the ring-shaped structure of the organic chemical compound benzene while daydreaming about the famous circular symbol of a snake eating its own tail. And Albert Einstein famously turned to music—Mozart in particular—when he was grappling with complex problems and needed inspiration. Emma Seppälä

One could say that genius is rooted in idleness

  • It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing. Gertrude Stein
  • The creative genius begins in the idle moment, dreaming up the impossible, and later making it come true. Virginia C. Andrews

Idleness helps the brain solve difficult problems …

  • It’s the problems that really seem impossible, where there’s no feeling of knowing, no sense of a solution, no sense of progress—those really hard problem that are most likely going to be solved by long walks, showers, meditation, games of ping pong…those kinds of things. Matthew E. May

…and make important decisions

  • If you are struggling to make a decision, say to yourself “ok brain you sort this out while I go off and make myself a wee cup of tea.” Fiona Campbell
  • Periods of “unconscious thought” actually improve decision making. During these periods, the same areas of the brain are reactivated that were involved in encoding the decision problem of an experiment. In other words, the brain works steadily on the problem outside of our conscious awareness. Nigel Barber

A mind at ease is far more creative than a mind that is thinking hard

  • My most creative moments come when my brain is allowed to rest. Megan King
  • We often think our best work can only come from heavy mental lifting—endless hours spent in front of a computer, drawing board, or in brainstorm meetings powered by incredibly strong coffee. But research suggests that the key to creativity and innovation has little to do with intense thinking time. In researching my book The Happiness Track, I found that the biggest breakthrough ideas often come from relaxation. Emma Seppala
  • When our minds are at ease, we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. Jonah Lehrer
  • Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease — when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain — we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems an-alytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,” Bhattacharya says. “For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.” Jonah Lehrer

A relaxed mind is far more creative than a mind that is stressed

  • The time to look for an idea is not when you need it. Dave Trott
  • Good ideas and creativity usually do not appear under stress. When you are relaxed and rejuvenated, creative ideas usually come rather naturally. Take a walk on the beach, take a nap, go and play some sport or do whatever it is that relaxes you so that your brain can be more creative when you get back to work. Diann Daniel

An empty mind is far more creative than a mind that is full

  • Having a head full of to-do list items makes you way less creative. Jessica Stillman
  • In everyday life, you may find yourself ‘loading’ your mind in various ways: memorizing a list of groceries to buy later at the supermarket, rehearsing the name of someone you just met so you don’t forget it, practicing your pitch before entering an important meeting,” he writes. “These loads can consume mental capacity, leading to dull thought and anhedonia–a flattened ability to experience pleasure.” In short, your cluttered mind is a creativity and happiness killer. Jessica Stillman

To be creative, we need a combination of diffuse thinking (mind wandering) and focused linear thinking

  • The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work. Emma Seppälä
  • Alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding. Organizing your day this way can help give your brain some much-needed downtime—the better to make room for your next big idea. Emma Seppälä
  • Lazy time encourages diffuse thinking. Our mind has two modes of thinking: the diffuse mode and the focused mode of thinking. We need to maintain constant oscillation between the two modes in order to be our most creative and productive. Mind wandering, a form of diffuse thinking, is a useful mechanism for our brains to process information—sometimes leading to non obvious solutions. Another benefit of letting our mind wander without paying any attention to a productive task is a higher focus on long-term goals, according to a study published in Consciousness and Cognition. A bit of lazy time today, for a more productive time tomorrow! Anne-Laure Le Cunff

Being idle and allowing the mind to daydream can be a great source of creative inspiration

  • Daydreaming is a crucial function of a creative and innovative mind. Kate Forsyth
  • Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. Edgar Allan Poe
  • There is a significant correlation between daydreaming and the generation of creative ideas. Anthony D. Fredericks
  • Research finds that people are more creative after they have been daydreaming or letting their minds wander. Emma Seppälä
  • Two types of daydreams—those that are personally meaningful and those with fantastical content—are associated with creativity. Claire Zedeelius
  • While on the surface it might sound unusual, letting our thoughts drift can actually help us solve problems when focusing on them does not work. Barbara Field
  • The next time someone catches you daydreaming on the job and asks you why you’re not working, tell them that in fact you’re doing your best, most creative work. Matthew E. May
  • Participants who often found their daydreams meaningful reported greater inspiration at the end of the day, and those who frequently reported fantastical daydreams reported more creative behavior. Claire Zedelius
  • When your mind doesn’t have to ride on a narrow track, it reorganizes all the tidbits of information and forms new and unexpected connections. Being distracted and allowing your mind to wander is powerfully positive. Bianca L. Rodriguez
  • Research has established that daydreaming is correlated with higher levels of creativity. Relentlessly drilling down on a complex problem doesn’t result in discoveries. Take a break. The mind will still incubate on the problem. Barbara Field
  • We are rarely taught to allow our minds to wander. It’s like only tending to one tree in a gigantic forest. Daydreaming allows your mind to zoom out and see the whole forest which creates a different perspective and invites creativity. Bianca L. Rodriguez
  • Daydreaming is how we access our big-picture state of mind. When you’re in a daydreaming state of mind, you can visualise or simulate your own version of events. This visualisation can help us gain a new perspective on a problem or link two previously disjointed thoughts to come up with an original idea. Amy Fries
  • Increasing the amount of imaginative daydreaming we do can be creatively beneficial simply because it allows our minds to wander across imaginative landscapes not normally part of our logic or normal habits of convergent thinking. In short, daydreaming expands our horizons and reveals creative vistas. Anthony D. Fredericks
  • What that means is that not all daydreaming is created equal. Sitting around the house all day in one long protracted daydream won’t produce any insights, unless there was a certain density of attention paid to a specific problem that preceded it. It’s dedicated daydreaming—purposeful mind-wandering that yields productive creativity. Matthew E. May
  • Daydreaming, from a creativity standpoint, is a good thing. It’s not something we should exclude from our everyday lives. Having our heads in the clouds is an opportunity to let our creative powers develop and flourish. This is mental play at its finest—a potent exercise in which innovative thinking is supported and celebrated. Anthony D. Fredericks
  • One study in which college students had 2 minutes to come up with as many uses as possible for everyday things (like toothpicks and bricks) proved this. Those who daydreamed first, rather than continuing to focus on the problem, did better at generating more creative ideas. Not by a small margin, either. They were 41% more productive and creative. Barbara Field
  • Daydreaming can have significant upsides for one’s tendency to crack difficult challenges in new ways. This, however, presumes that people deeply care about the work they do, what attracted them to the profession in the first place. Daydreaming without this focus has significant downsides, which show up most directly in one’s overall performance ratings. Markus Baer
  • When the mind wanders, it’s free from constraint and limitations. It’s free to roam and travel down unknown paths into unchartered territory. It’s free to be. Never are we more full of possibility than when we remove that which binds us and embrace the freedom to create new realities. Daydreaming is a powerful tool, inspiring us to try something new and encouraging us to pursue unfulfilled desires. Jacklyn Janeksela
  • Great ideas come when you least expect them. Daydreaming and creative thinking are very much related in that regard. Some of the greatest minds in the world also knew that. Daydreaming has led to some of the world’s greatest discoveries such as Nikola Tesla and all of his numerous inventions, Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity and other ideas and Sir Isaac Newton and his discovery of gravity. Anders Vanderkool
  • In 2012, researchers found that letting your mind wander can lead to better creative problem solving. And anecdotal links between daydreaming and creativity abound. From Einstein to Nobel Prize-winning chemists to the inventor of the Post-it note, many of the world’s great thinkers have espoused the benefits of giving your mind a rest. And perhaps you too have noticed that your best ideas come in the shower or while out for a walk. Elle Metz
  • Although daydreaming is sometimes portrayed as a black hole where productivity goes to die (it can be hard to get stuff done when you’re lost in your imagination), there’s a compelling argument to be made that the opposite could also be true. Rather than being a time sink, daydreaming might be a source of creative inspiration. The idea seems intuitive, and research among professional creatives has found that good ideas do sometimes emerge from daydreams. Claire Zedelius
  • Mind-wandering gave me fresh angles at solving problems, helped me come up with new topics for my writing, and made me discover new ideas by reflecting on what happened to me throughout the day. Therefore, even from a productivity perspective the occasional daydream makes total sense as otherwise all these creative discoveries would never see the light of day. Or in other words: Giving your brain time to wander can help maximize your “total learning function”. Sebastian Lindemann
  • Humans have daydreamed for thousands of years, and yet, these days, spare moments are filled with using our smartphones and other devices—scrolling through social media, listening to podcasts, responding to emails—leaving us little time to let our minds wander. This may seem a small change, but its effect, on the way our minds work and on our collective creativity, could be far-reaching. In fact, it could be hindering your ability to come up with fresh, innovative ideas. Elle Metz
  • Insight solutions correspond with a burst of gamma activity in a region just above the right ear, called the anterior superior temporal gyrus. It seemed to be a moment when knowledge was being transferred from the unconscious to the conscious parts of the brain. Interestingly, the activity only seemed to happen after a period of alpha activity – the brain frequency that’s associated with relaxation. It’s an idling state where certain areas of the brain have inhibited activity, including the visual cortex. It’s what happens to our brains when we daydream. Dave Birss
  • In those moments of laziness when we let our minds wander through windows of thoughtless staring, intentional reflection, and daydreaming, we tend to feel a sting of guilt because we are not being ‘productive’. We chastise ourselves when we see others burying themselves in work while we cuddle up in our sofas, when we watch TV, take aimless walks, go to see a movie, or even take a bath. But according to recent research, children and adults who indulge in such lazy activities and mind-wandering tend to possess more developed executive functions such as planning and creative problem-solving than their workaholic counterparts. Arinze Obiezue

Even being bored can lead to bursts of creative inspiration

  • Deep boredom brings genuine creativity. Juhee Haha
  • Moving past the boredom is where the magic begins as you watch all your solutions and choices appear. In fact, often you get choices that you would never have thought about had you rushed your natural creative thinking process. Fiona Campbell
  • We should reframe boredom. Instead of saying ‘I feel bored’ and associating that with guilt, shame, or a need to be distracted by some electronic entertainment, we should say to ourselves, ‘Great! I feel bored, so that means I’m ready to be creative.’ Fernando Gros
  • He who fortifies himself completely against boredom fortifies himself against himself too. He will never drink the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring. Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Like so many, I got hooked on my smartphone as a way to avoid boredom, filling those small holes in the day. But boredom isn’t something to cure. It’s something to enjoy. Boredom is a prompt, like a blinking cursor on the screen, inviting us to create. Our minds already respond to this; they naturally gear up for creative work, for coming up with ideas and connections. Fernando Gros
  • Friedrich Nietzsche saw boredom as the “unpleasant calm that precedes creative acts”. Neuroscientists and psychologists, like Jerome Singer, back up Nietzsche’s claims helping to explain what exactly happens when the brain is bored: When we do not have anything to do, our brain tries to escape the feeling of boredom. We shift into a mode of internal stimulation, commonly referred to as mind-wandering, where we refrain from task-related, focused thought. When our mind wanders our brain switches from “focused mode” into “diffuse mode” which increases activity in many regions of the brain. These areas have been linked to high levels of openness to experience and divergent thinking — two common traits of highly creative people.  Sebastian Lindemann

Far from being an indulgence, idleness thus represents a very productive us of time

  • Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good. Soren Kierkegaard
  • Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. Tim Kreider
  • Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. Tim Kreider
  • Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. Tim Kreider
  • Our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast moment that occurs within us during idle days. Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. John Lubbock
  • Idleness isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity in order to be at your peak. It’s backed by neuroscience. Idleness truly makes your brain function better. The brain is very active during idleness—just in a different way. Lawton Ursrey
  • I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days. In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot. Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Idleness as a waste of time is a damaging notion put about by its spiritually vacant enemies. The fact that idling can be enormously productive is repressed. Musicians are characterized as slackers; writers as selfish ingrates; artists as dangerous. Robert Louis Stevenson expressed the paradox as follows in “An Apology for Idlers” (1885): “Idleness . . . does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class. Tom Hodgkinson

In many ways, it is busyness that is true idleness

  • The idlest minds are those that inhabit the busiest bodies. Bauvard
  • A nation rushing hastily too and fro, busily employed in idleness. Phaedrus
  • Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Timothy Ferriss
  • The restlessness of work-for-work’s-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise from the absence of a will to accomplish something. Josef Pieper
  • There is one crucial difference between the active, go-getting man and the idle man: while the go-getting man mindlessly follows other people’s maxims out of a stern sense of obligation, the idle man is a free thinker who has his own ideas and creates his own rules. Asia Lenae

Apart from creativity, our brain also needs periods of idleness to rest…

  • The human need for downtime is a vital act of care. Erica Scourti
  • Neuroscientific evidence argues that your brain needs to rest, right now. While our minds are exquisitely evolved for intense action, in order to function normally our brains also need to be idle— a lot of the time, it turns out. Andrew Smart
  • When you increase the metabolism of the brain, it comes with byproducts that need to be cleared out and cleaned.  The brain needs to rest. Andrew Smart
  • The idea is to embrace moments of inactivity as a crucial part of our creative development and not eschew them because they make us feel unproductive. The same way we let our muscles rest after periods of intense physical activity to allow them repair and develop, we also need to let our minds rest, relax, and lazy around for our creativity to blossom. Arinze Obiezue

…as much as it needs sleep

  • Think about idleness like sleep—if you go without sleep for too long you will build up a sleep deficit and we all know we’re not at our best when we’re not getting enough of it. The same applies to idleness—you will build up deficit over time. Lawton Ursrey
  • Taking the time to be idle will increase your effectiveness, creativity, and aha moments, while also making you healthier. Who knows what we can accomplish when we take time to relax. Give your Default Mode Network the same attention you give to your sleep. Lawton Ursrey

To be creative, make time for idleness


Focus on being creative rather than busy

  • We are encouraged from an early age to keep ourselves busy and productive and out of trouble. But the truth is, being busy isn’t necessarily healthy and it doesn’t keep you out of trouble–especially if you stay busy so you have no time to be aware of your feelings. Your body stores those unacknowledged feelings, and you know that is not good for you.  I don’t want to spend my life keeping busy. Maybe I could successfully juggle an impressive list of responsibilities, but what would I be contributing to life?  I am much more interested in being creative than being busy.  Creating feels good.  It fills me, restores me, nourishes me and energizes me. Bernie Siegel

To be creative, slow down

  • Learn to pause, or nothing worthwhile will catch you up. Doug King
  • If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up — to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.  Natalie Goldberg

Limit the amount of time spent doing focused cognitive tasks

  • Your ability to focus may be limited to 5 hours a day. Keri Wiginton
  • Extremely talented people in many different disciplines—music, sports, writing—rarely practice more than four hours each day on average. Many experts prefer to begin training early in the morning when mental and physical energy is readily available. “Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such that subsequent rest and nighttime sleep allow the individuals to restore their equilibrium,” Ericsson wrote, “individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating ‘burnout.’” Tim Kreider
  • Research suggests that to maximize productivity we should reform the current model of consecutive 40-hour workweeks separated only by two-day weekends and sometimes interrupted by short vacations. Tim Kreider

Make plenty of time for idleness and leisure

  • Against the exclusiveness of the paradigm of work as activity … there is leisure as “non-activity” — an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet. Josef Pieper
  • What matters is not so much the availability of time to develop creative endeavors as the willingness to carve out unscheduled time during which the unconscious mind can develop answers to practical, creative, or intellectual, problems. Nigel Barber
  • We need to embrace idle time to encourage creativity. Take time to think and daydream. Spend time away from your computer and devices. Sit, lay, walk or take a bath and let your mind wander. This idleness allows ideas to incubate and our brains to process and organise our thoughts. Nichole Maybury

Relax and stop thinking about work

  • I need time without creativity to be creative. Not thinking is the best ‘thinking’ time for me. Becky Power
  • When we need to find far-reaching connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, when we’ve really hit the wall…that’s when we need to relax, to stop thinking about work, because the answer will only arrive when we stop looking for it. Matthew E. May

In fact, stop thinking about anything for a while

  • Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone. Alan Watts
  • Whenever an answer, a solution, or a creative idea is needed, stop thinking for a moment by focusing attention on your inner energy field. … When you resume thinking, it will be fresh and creative. Eckhart Tolle

Spend time doing nothing at all

  • Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.  Austin Kleon
  • Spend quiet time doing nothing for this allows ideas to incubate. Antony Lambert

Look out of the window

  • If we realized that meditation simply means staring into space, then it would be more accessible to more people. It’s easy. A window is all you need. I remember being at school and being able to spend 20 minutes straight just staring out of the window. This is meditation, although my teachers called it daydreaming. Windows are free, and they are everywhere. They are on trains, on the top deck of buses, and most houses have loads of them. Read a poem, find a chair and sit by the window. Tom Hodgkinson

Make time for quiet contemplation

  • Though we tend to idolize what the ancients called the vita ctive, or life of action, Ueland believes we should devote just as much time to quiet contemplation. Our ideas are like seeds: we can’t plant them in the ground and expect them to immediately sprout— they need to sit in the fertile soil of silence and solitude before they can bloom into fully-formed flowers.  Asia Lenae

Take plenty of breaks

  • Often when one works at a hard question, nothing good is accomplished at the first attack. Then one takes a rest, long or short, and sits down anew to the work. During the first half-hour, as before, nothing is found, and then all of a sudden, the decisive idea presents itself to the mind. Henri Poincaré
  • That learning and memory depend on both sleep and waking rest may partially explain why some of the most exceptional artists and athletes among us fall into a daily routine of intense practice punctuated by breaks and followed by a lengthy period of recuperation. Tim Kreider

Get away from the desk…

  • How many of you do your best thinking and get your most creative ideas at work? When we ask people in our groups this question, no one ever raises their hand. Robert Kriegel

…and go for a walk

  • Answers to my toughest problems come to me while I’m walking, when I’m not thinking about them. I know when I’m stuck that I’m not going to solve them by just playing with words on my computer screen—I need to get away. Jonah Lehrer
  • Emulate creative geniuses like Charles Dickens and J. R .R.Tolkien and make a long walk—without your phone—a part of your daily routine. A 2014 study (pdf), published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that people who went on daily walks scored higher on a test that measures creative thinking than people who did not, and that people who went on outdoor walks came up with more novel, imaginative analogies than people who walked on treadmills. Emma Seppälä
  • In my own creative process, I now feel much more comfortable knowing that when I’ve hit a wall, spent a day tinkering with the same stupid paragraph—that it’s time to take a walk and accept the fact that the most productive thing I can do will look really unproductive to everyone else. I now take more long, languid showers and don’t feel guilty when I take long walks in the middle of the day. Jonah Lehrer

Stop and listen

  • Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen. Ruth Krauss
  • We collect data, things, people, ideas, “profound experiences”.  But there are other times.  There are times when we stop.  We sit still.  We lose ourselves in a pile of leaves or its memory. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.  James Carroll

Make room for idle solitude

  • To be creative you must create a space for yourself where you can be undisturbed… separate from everyday concerns. John Cleese
  • Creative people need downtime when their daydreaming brains can bring new ideas, and novel products, to light. One way of achieving this inner quiet is through withdrawing from other people. Perhaps this is why introverts are responsible for so much of the world’s creativity. Nigel Barber

Allow yourself to daydream

  • Accepting your own daydreaming state of mind is almost revolutionary. Amy Fries
  • Let yourself daydream sometimes… Allow spontaneous images to come and go. Capture one in a sketch. These images express connections with your inner self. Nita Leland

Get away from your phone and screen

  • In our smartphone age, embracing idleness and the joys of a wandering mind requires some effort, because we all carry powerful distraction engines with us every day. Fernando Gros
  • When a NY Times reporter interviewed several winners of the MacArthur “genius” grants, most said they kept cell phones and iPads turned off when in transit so they could use the downtime for thinking. That’s what most people are lacking. Research shows that people think more creatively when they are calm, unhurried, and free from stress. Time pressures lead to tunnel vision. Harold Taylor

Lie down

  • It is while prone that ideas come. “A writer could get more ideas for his articles or his novels in this posture than he could by sitting doggedly before his desk morning and afternoon,” writes Lin Yutang in his essay “On Lying in Bed.” Tom Hodgkinson

Make time to meditate as this can greatly enhance creativity

  • In meditation, whatever happens is bound to be expressed in creativity. Rajneesh
  • To create you must quiet your mind. You need a quiet mind so that ideas will have a chance of connecting. Eric Maisel
  • If you are silent through meditation, utterly silent, suddenly you feel a tremendous urge to create something. Rajneesh
  • If your creativity comes out of your silence, out of your Zen, out of your meditations, then it is authentic, original. Rajneesh
  • Transcendental Meditation opens the awareness to the infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence that lies deep within everyone. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
  • All creativity is a deep suffering, unless your creativity does not come out of the mind, but out of meditation. When it comes out of meditation, creativity is sharing the joy, sharing the blissfulness that you have. Rajneesh
  • One way to access the field is through the daily practice of silence, meditation, and non-judgment. Spending time in nature will also give you access to the qualities inherent in the field: infinite creativity, freedom, and bliss. Deepak Chopra
  • As an individual learns and practices higher meditation techniques, a tremendous volume of energy and creativity flows through them. If they direct some of that energy towards their career, then naturally they will become successful. Frederick Lenz
  • Meditation gives you two things: equanimity and creativity. And it does that by taking one from their conscious mind, where there’s all that noise and chaos and so on, into the subconscious mind where there’s quiet and where creativity emanates from. Ray Dalio
  • Meditation is the progressive quieting of our mind, until we reach the source of thought, which in wisdom traditions are the realm of our soul and spirit. In this domain of awareness there is infinite creativity, synchronicity, the power of intention, and freedom from limitations. Deepak Chopra
  • Transcendental meditation is an ancient mental technique that allows any human being to dive within, transcend and experience the source of everything. It’s such a blessing for the human being because that eternal field is a field of unbounded intelligence, creativity, happiness, love, energy and peace. David Lynch
  • Transcendental meditation is one particular form of mantra meditation that allows your mind to experience progressively abstract fields of awareness. And ultimately you settle down in the space between your thoughts. The space between your thoughts is pure consciousness, and it’s a field of possibilities. It’s a field of creativity. Deepak Chopra
  • Help people to meditate, because there is nothing more creative than meditation. Each art and each creativity can be tremendously enhanced by meditation. If somebody is a painter and he starts meditating, his painting will have a sudden jump, it will become tremendously profound – because whatsoever you paint reflects your mind. If the mind goes deeper, your painting will go deeper. You paint your mind. What else can you paint? You paint yourself. Rajneesh
  • What style of meditation is best for stimulating creativity? One of the most definitive studies on this subject was conducted in 2012 by Lorenza Colzato, a Dutch cognitive psychologist. Her research team had a small group of novices practice two forms of mindfulness meditation: 1) open-monitoring, which involves observing and noting phenomena in the present moment and keeping attention flexible and unrestricted, and 2) focused attention, which stresses concentrating on a single object, such as breathing, and ignoring other stimuli. Then, after each meditation session, the subjects underwent tests to determine their ability to perform a range of cognitive skills. What Colzato and her team discovered was that open-monitoring meditation was far more effective in stimulating divergent thinking, a key driver of creativity. Not surprisingly, the study also showed that focused-attention meditation was more strongly related to convergent thinking, which is important for narrowing options and formulating a workable solution. Hugh Delehanty

Have plenty of naps…

  • Many recent studies have corroborated the idea that our mental resources are continuously depleted throughout the day and that various kinds of rest and downtime can both replenish those reserves and increase their volume. Consider, for instance, how even an incredibly brief midday nap enlivens the mind. Tim Kreider

…and get a good night’s sleep

  • Sometimes I’ll spend all day working on a project and I’ll feel that I never quite created something that I’m really happy with. I’ll get a good night’s sleep and [the next day], get something done in 15 minutes that is more innovative. Megan King

On a lighter note

  • No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit. Sir Frederick G. Banting