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.



Slowing down and puttering around

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Slowing down for even 10 minutes to do nothing or to make art may seem like an indulgence if you don’t have space. Or it may seem like a waste of time when you could be being productive instead. But they are valuable ways you can recharge and reconnect to yourself which allows you to be more productive in the long run. Because the more rundown and busy you are, the less you have to give of yourself and the less productivity you inevitably become.

Courtney Carver from Be More With Less explains “Doing nothing, puttering around, and lingering were all things I considered a waste of time. Even though I’d indulge from time to time, I felt bad about it. As if because I wasn’t actually contributing, I was letting people down.” Shaun Niequist in Present over Perfect says “… the hustle will never make you feel the way you want to feel. In that way it’s a drug, and I fall for the initial rush every time: If I push enough, I will feel whole, I will feel proud, I will feel happy. What I feel though, is exhausted and resentful, but with well organized closets.”

Making art allows you to slow down and spend time with yourself in a way you can’t do when you’re engaging (distracted) with your phone or device. Pico Iyer in a podcast interview with Oprah Winfrey talks of the art of stillness: “In an age of speed I begin to think nothing could be more exhilarating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” Making art forces you pay attention; to the world outside and to your inner world.

Iyer continues “I think we’re more happy when we forget the time, when we’re completely absorbed in the conversation or movie or piece of music and what we really crave is intimacy… and kindness… If you don’t have time, you don’t have enough kindness in your life. You don’t have the chance to open yourself up.” Being completely absorbed in a task is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about in Flow: “The positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life I call flow.”

Slowing down and making art is much more important than we realise, or have been taught. Allow yourself to ‘indulge’ in slowing down and reconnect to your creativity so you can come back refreshed and reenergised to your everyday life.