Benefits of puttering and unfocused time

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you regularly allow unfocused time to be free, putter or play in your life? Time where nothing you do needs to be productive or of “value” to a greater cause or for others? We used to spend more time daydreaming, walking and pottering around, but now thanks to a multimedia device in our back pocket, we can be entertained (or distracted) at any given moment. While the dopamine hit to the brain from the digital stimulation may feel good—as much research now shows—excessive use is unhealthy.

From this Seattle Times article titled How smartphone addiction is affecting our physical and mental health:

Why, you may ask, is it so important to limit our digital lives? “Without open spaces and downtime, the nervous system never shuts down — it’s in constant fight-or-flight mode,” [Nancy] Colier said in an interview. “We’re wired and tired all the time. Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it.”

Courtney Carver from Be More With Less asks us “Remember recess? We need unscheduled blocks of time to be free. I don’t say no because I’m so busy. I want free time. We all deserve time to be curious, bored, and idle. We deserve time to putter or to do nothing at all.”

A healthier option is to find an undemanding hobby that’s easy to pick up and put down, instead of relying on a digital device for entertainment. Making art is a simple, cheap and accessible hobby (if you can give yourself permission to spend time making something for fun). There are countless benefits to making art, having hobbies and spending time not working.

Srini Pillay in Tinker Dabble Doodle Try talks about how being in an unfocused state (not-working) is beneficial and can ironically help us get work done more efficiently. “In other unfocused states, you may be doing something less demanding, like knitting or gardening… You’re cruising along on autopilot, getting stuff done. When you do, your brain gets a much-deserved rest, but it also brings the puzzle pieces of memory together to increase the accuracy of future predictions. Lying in a hammock, showering, knitting and gardening are all things you can do to unfocus and relax.”

Giving your brain a rest is essential and spending time on a device doesn’t allow space to connect to the peaceful and restorative inner world. Like meditation, puttering and unfocused hobbies allow you to be more mindful in the present moment, give you a breather from the chatter of life so you can come back to it refreshed and re-centred. This practice is worthy of your time and attention.



Art making as an act of bravery

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Deciding to try to make art for fun as an adult is a big step and overcoming the multiple hurdles you face before picking up a pencil is a huge victory. The lack of time, material or space can be hard enough, but overcoming the fear of not being ‘good’ at art and the guilt of not spending time productively can halt all creative endeavours.

Continuing to make art regardless of the above is an act of bravery. It takes determination to face the white page and put pen to paper and create from the unknown. But once you decide to do it and you get into the flow of making, the rest will take care of itself. All you have to do is turn up at the paper and be willing to make some marks. That’s it. Don’t over complicate it by having to make something worthy of being in a gallery, that’s not what making art is about. Art making is about having fun and enjoying the process.

Just make something. ANYTHING. Nobody is watching and nobody cares if it’s ‘bad’. How will you know how creative you really are if you never give yourself permission to make any art?

“Don’t give into your fears… If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Downtime and busyness

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you currently schedule in regular downtime or time to quietly reflect? Taking a breather from work and “doing” may actually help you to be more creative compared with constant work and taking action – aka busyness. Spending time away from work, chores and responsibilities is not self-indulgent, it’s vital for our wellbeing.

Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes talks about how important downtime has become “this downtime is helping to relight that little spark inside, it’s helping my creativity and in the long run helping me tell the stories my work needs me to tell. I give myself permission to view this downtime as essential.” When there always feels like there’s something you should be doing, giving yourself permission to have regular downtime can feel unobtainable. Rhimes admits that “It’s hard to feel like I deserve any time to replenish the well when I know everyone else is working hard too.” But in order to avoid burnout later down the track, downtime is, as she says, essential.

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi in Creativity explains that “constant busyness” not good for your creativity. “It is important to schedule times in the day, the week, and the year just to take stock of your life and review what you have accomplished and remains to be done. These are times when you should not expect any task to be done, and decision to be reached. You should just indulge in the luxury of reflection for its own sake.” If you find it difficult to let go of your busyness because you believe you’ll be less efficient, Czikszentmihalyi argues that the opposite may occur for your creativity: “Whether you intend it or not, new ideas and conclusions will emerge in your consciousness anyway – and the less you try to direct the process the more creative they are likely to be.”

Your creativity will thank you for slowing down and having a rest.