When’s the last time your boss came up to you and said, “Whoa, that’s really deep bro”?
I’m assuming it’s never. And there’s a reason for that—you work on a computer.
It’s a simple fact that computers make it much harder for us to focus. You know it’s true. We’ve all had the same experience: you’re trying to work on a project when suddenly you hear a ding, feel a buzz, or see a notification pop up on your screen. And then you either get distracted addressing it—or fighting the urge to address it.
It’s the modern office worker’s Sisyphean tragedy. We roll our idea boulders to the top of the hill only to have the very tools we use to do our jobs send them rolling back to the bottom again.
One study revealed that office workers can only focus on a task for about 11 continuous minutes without being interrupted. Another, that it takes about 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption.
It begs the question: when and how is work supposed to get done? How are we supposed to think deep, smart thoughts when the modern world is Harrison Bergeron-ing us into inattention?
Deep thinking and good work require unbroken focus. And yet with 43% of adults working in a job that requires them to use a computer, shattered focus has become the norm.
But there is a solution. And it’s called doodling.
Doodling fuses your fractured focus into a single piece.
Doodling has been demonized as a distraction for years. But it’s actually a really great tool for improving your focus—ironically, because it’s so great at distracting you.
Confused? Don’t be. It’s simple: doodling distracts you from getting distracted.
Psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth found that people who doodle remember more of what they hear than people who don’t. Her theory is that doodling is a kind of distraction inoculation—distracting you just enough to allow you to still pay attention, while preventing you from checking out completely.
But the really interesting thing is that the effects of doodling don’t wear off right away. According to a Lancet Journal study, doodling “engages default networks in the brain that would normally go dormant without external stimuli.”
In other words, doodling can actually help you retrain your brain to resist distraction.
Doodling improves your thinking.
But doodling doesn’t just fix your brain. It helps it to work even better.
Michael Slepian of Tufts University and Nalini Ambady of Stanford University found that doodling can have a profound impact on the way our brains make connections. According to their research, doodling improves your originality, your cognitive flexibility, and your ability to make remote associations.
The reason? The way our bodies move has a profound impact on the way we think. And doodling puts you more in tune with your body and your surroundings.
Our brains weren’t meant to sit still all day. They were made to respond to changing circumstances and ensure our survival by helping us adapt. So when you sit still for 8+ hours a day, your brain is doing the exact same thing—and it’s murder on your creative thinking.
But, according to Slepian and Ambady, the “fluid” motions of doodling can put you in a more “fluid” state of mind that’s more capable of both deep thinking and looking at things in new and interesting ways.
Doodling helps you feel less terrible at the end of the day.
Fun fact: it’s really hard to come up with good ideas when you feel terrible. And the blue light coming from your computer screen causes all sorts of terrible—including eyestrain, headaches, fatigue, sleep loss, and even depression.
There’s a reason health experts have insisted on taking periodic breaks from screens for basically forever. But when you get sucked in, it can be difficult to remember to take those breaks.
Personally, I’ve found that having a doodle on my desk reminds me to take a break. Every half-hour I glance over, see it sitting there, and take a minute or two to add some lines or shading to it.
Doodling is a simple way to remind yourself to do something you wouldn’t do otherwise: look at something besides your computer screen.
So every once in a while, back down from the devil’s staring contest you’re having with the fiery machine in front of you—and grab a pen! Then go doodle your heart out. And inspire your boss to be the first boss ever to look at your work and say, “Whoa, that’s really deep, bro.”