The #1 secret to being more creative this summer

Whether you make a living as a creative professional, you enjoy creative pursuits or you just want to infuse a little oomph into your family, work and play, there’s one secret ingredient to making it happen:

Let yourself be bored.

Yep, that’s right. Creativity and boredom go hand in hand. I was reminded of this when I read this Chicago Tribune article about slowing down and enjoying summer. I’ve heard myriad expressions to quash boredom in kids, ranging from, “Only boring kids get bored” to “Go find something to do.” But Kim John Payne, quoted in the article and author of “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids,” makes a great connection between boredom and creativity. In the article, he says:

“Boredom is merely the precursor to creativity.”

I LOVE that. It’s like seeing boredom from a whole new perspective–it’s not whining. It’s creativity that hasn’t happened yet. As a kid, I had oodles of time to get bored in the summer. I wasn’t allowed to participate in any organized actvities over the summer (hear the collective parenting gasp?), which I thought was torture at the time. But I soon found myself acting out plays with neighbor kids, making up ghost stories at impromptu sleepovers, washing cars for money, writing and reading, and thinking a lot. I made stuff. I built stuff. I dreamed stuff. Time was like one big glass of ice-cold lemonade that was always full no matter how much I drank.

It was one of these summers, when I was nine, that I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Veterinarian was considered then discarded when I read that I would have to work with sick and dying animals. Eventually I concluded that I really wanted to write things that made people think. I didn’t know what that looked like at the time, but it’s always been there in the back of my mind, consciously or unconsciously guiding many of my educational and career choices.

I once read about a writer who would spend one hour a day just sitting, looking out the window or being outside. Just sitting there. Not talking, not listening to music, not folding laundry or jotting down a grocery list and looking out the window–just looking. For a multi-tasker like me, that sounded like crazy talk. How could a person just sit there doing nothing for a whole hour? And then I remembered my childhood summers.

Look at it like this: allowing yourself to get bored is like allowing your gas tank to fill up. You are giving your brain time to idle. You are freeing up “ram” that can be allocated for whatever you want. How cool is that?

To kick off your creative summer, here are five ways to make more room for boredom in your life:

1. Sit and look out the window in silence and do nothing else for one hour, once a week. Can’t fathom that? Try 10 minutes. Next week, try 20 minutes. Keep adding 10 minutes until you hit 60 minutes. Resist the temptation to do anything else.

2. Hold the time. When was the last time you blocked out an hour, let alone a day, to do absolutely nothing? Once a day would be heaven, but even if it’s only one day a month, block it out now on your calendar. People in my office like to put “HOLD” on their Outlook calendars to hold time they might use for a meeting or project. Try it. No one scheduled you for anything during that time–not even you! HOLD that time for doing absolutely nothing. At our house we try to keep at least one day on the weekends free of events, get-togethers or anything planned/scheduled. This gives us time to just relax, hang out and see what we can make of it.

If you have kids or caregiver responsibilities, see if you can get help even for a few hours. Reduce the number of activities they participate in. Treat your boredom time as sacred and religious. It is.

3. Get out and people watch. Get out of your house where there are to-do lists and laundry and dishes that need to be cleaned. It’s too distracting. Pick a spot–the park, the mall, a cafe, the bookstore, neighborhood pool–and people watch. Space out. Give your brain freedom to idle. Have a notebook or sketchbook handy for ideas that might pop up.

4. Lock your door. Tell everyone you need to be alone. Go to your creative space. Put a sign or ribbon on the door that everyone will know means “Do not Disturb.” Stare out the window or up at the ceiling and let yourself daydream.  I like to sit in my office in the morning and just watch the sunlight stream through the colored glass bottles on my window ledge. I always sit in the rocking chair that my friends bought for me when I had my first baby. I always think of them when I sit there, as well as all the time I spent with my kids in it when they were babies–snuggling, reading stories, kissing foreheads. Who says boredom can’t be comforting?

5. Reward yourself. Think of your “boredom time” as a reward for all the productive, necessary things you do each day. You can structure it however you want. For every essential chore or errand you do (or delegate!), reward yourself with one hour of “boredom.” Or plan to spend two hours getting things done and when the time is up, reward yourself with one hour of boredom at the end. Don’t have a list, just do what you can in that time period. And when the time is up–use a timer for an auditory cue–you’re done.

So go on, let yourself get bored. See what happens. And the next time my kids say, “We’re bored!” I’m going to say: “Cool! Now let’s get creative.”

So how about you? What’s your greatest summer–or any–memory of getting creative after a bout of boredom? How do you slow down in the summertime?

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