Put Down the Smartphone: Be Bored, It’s Great for Business

Bored? Good. You may be on the verge of a great discovery.

Or you might solve a problem or gain some insight into a pressing business issue, because boredom isn’t just a waste of time.

Playing Angry Birds on your smartphone is a waste of time. In fact, distracting yourself from boredom by playing Angry Birds is not simply just a harmless waste of time, it can inhibit creative thinking and general mindfulness essential to effective problem-solving and planning. 

As the New York Times reports, research indicates that boredom is a tool the brain uses to sort information, serving as a sort of spam filter. It allows the brain to “reboot” in ways that are central to learning and creativity. Boredom provides empty ground on which to build new ideas, a way to investigate our true desires, argues Mary Mann, who is writing an entire book on boredom inspired by her own boring experiences. Boredom leads to creative thinking about things you’d rather be doing.

Living in a 24/7 connected world increases our distractions in ways that are not conducive to creative boredom. Smartphones have banished our ability to be bored, notes Ridgewood Tips from Town, citing a neuroscientist’s observations that when you have nothing to do, you continue to generate thoughts even if there’s nothing specific to think about.

The smartphone disrupts this process with instant anytime access to shopping, articles, games, texts, twitters and emails. If you can name it, it’s probably available online. Even the mere presence of a phone blocks the possibility of boring contemplation because instead of letting your thoughts wander, you’re wondering if there’s a new update from something you looked at or someone you messaged five minutes ago.

As pointed out in Fast Company, there are long- and short-term reactions to being bored. One is active (good, like trying to master a new skill), the other is passive (not so good, like staring at a screen). Smartphone apps are passive activities just waiting to monopolize your downtime at the cost of curtailing constructive thoughts if you were allowed to be bored instead.

As a business owner, you may be missing out on critical insights because you don’t allow yourself time to be bored. Understandably, you fear not paying attention to your phone means not paying attention to your business. No argument there.

But how much of your time on the smartphone is for business and how much is just social or diversionary? Sure we get bored standing in line or waiting for something. It seems innocuous to play a game or check for emails in those situations. The problem is that this kind of short term diversion has a cumulative affect, to the point where people are spending more than 30 hours a month on smartphone apps, according to a Nielsen study.

Get in the Moment and Break Free

How much time are you spending on your smartphone doing things that are not, well, so smart? It’s easy enough to find out because, ironically enough, there’s an app for that.

Moment is an app for your iPhone or iPad that tracks your device usage. You can set daily limits, receive a text message when you’ve exceeded your limit and even automatically block screen viewing (though phone calls continue to transmit). Kevin Holesh, who developed the app, says Moment makes you more aware not only of how much time you spend looking at the screen, but, more importantly, what you are doing on it.

As NPR reports, the purpose is to make you conscious of the time you spend on the phone, not self-conscious about it. Holesh himself says that such mindfulness prompted him to replace reading Twitter feeds with reading more substantive books and articles.

For Android users, BreakFree performs a similar function, making users aware that, if they are like an average adult, they a checking their phone as much as 110 times a day. The app also offers tools that allow you to block specific functions, such as texts or phone calls, or disable Internet connectivity altogether during designated “quiet times.”

Bored and Brilliant 

It’s not easy to kick the habit. And you might need more motivation than an app that you can easily ignore or turn off. Try the Bored and Brilliant challenge, a series of weekly projects designed to detach you from your phone and promote creative thinking. Which, proving that you just can’t get away from it, are sent to you via email or available as downloads from the website.

No matter what we do, we need technology. We just need to make certain we don’t let it distract us from being bored in more constructive ways.

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