It’s okay to be bored. It’s also okay to not be doing anything.

Jan 12 2012

There was a blog post today over on HeyWhipple by Luke Sullivan that claimed good, creative people are NEVER (caps his) bored.

I feel like the piece relies on a few misconceptions about boredom, and fuels a few other misconceptions which can be harmful to the creative process.

Boredom is not the same as having nothing to do

Here’s a typical IM conversation for me:

Me: I’m bored

Friend: Go find something to do! Live! Breathe in the world!

Me: I have something to do. I’ve been working on it for 5 hours. It’s boring work.

Me: That’s why I’m bored.

In an ideal world, we’d all have super-exciting stuff to do, all the time. In the real world, though, we have to wait in line at the grocery store, fill out tax forms, listen to our friends talk about their newborns, and do all kinds of other boring things.

Even the fun careers have boring bits. We often see only the fun parts because, well, that’s what’s interesting. Nobody tunes in to see Evil Knievel and his team running tests on handle grips.

If you’re sitting around with nothing to do and complaining about having nothing to do, then that’s a problem. And yeah, that’s probably boring too. But that’s not descriptive of all boredom.

Which brings me to my next point…

Doing nothing is just fine.

Relaxation and downtime are essential to the creative process. There’s this manic compulsion in society today to be doing something all the time. It was bad before Facebook and other social media, and now it’s gotten even worse.

“Sat on a bench and stared at a brick wall” doesn’t make for a great status update, but it’s a perfectly fine thing to do. So is sitting on the couch and absentmindedly flipping back and forth between Trading Spaces and Mythbusters.

Just don’t do it all the time.

Moderation is the key. That applies to the do something compulsion, too.


The real problem with the constant do something compulsion: Burnout. Burnout is the creative’s worst enemy.

People who think they can’t get burned out haven’t pushed themselves hard enough. People who have suffered from it know to constantly walk the thin line between their productive peak and their burnout point.

This social expectation of creative people to do something and do something all the time is a recipe for burnout.

Plenty of young creative people hit their first burnout and just give up. The clash between social expectations and the reality of producing creative work is just too much. That’s something we should protect against, because a lot of these young creatives would have produced something truly great on their second, fifth, or twentieth try.

One response so far

  1. I agree with you. People need to click off. To let their brains drift. To watch mindless television. That is part of the creative process. I do not advocate constant activity, mental or otherwise. My little essay was about those people who get bored, not people who need t click off and veg for a bit. Does that make sense?

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