Updated: Aug 25, 2019
I spend far too much time on airplanes. In 2018, I flew over 240,000 miles to work with startup founders in 31 countries. And being like most entrepreneurs, I have a never-ending list of things to be done:
E-mails that need to be read and need a response.
Proposals to review.
Documents to write.
Presentations to develop.
The list goes on. And while I am sitting on the plane, I feel this overwhelming need to “do something productive!”
But being productive (in a traditional sense) on a plane is hard.
There are distractions all around you. The crying baby… The person next to you encroaching on your “personal space.” The child behind you kicking the back of your seat.
The power the plug under the seat isn’t working.
The internet is slower than dial-up was 20 years ago.
The seat in front of you is reclined almost into your face, so you become a contortionist trying to work on your laptop.
So, I developed a backup plan. I would download podcasts and audio books on business or entrepreneurship. I could be productive by listening to educational things. Genius!
One of the things I downloaded was a TED Talk “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas” by Manoush Zomorodi. She shares her own thoughts, interspersed with recordings from other researchers on the topic. Here thesis can be summarized in the following quotes:
“It turns out that when you get bored, you ignite a network in your brain called the ‘default mode,’” she says in her speech. Although our body goes on autopilot while doing mundane tasks like folding laundry or walking into the office, our brains are hard at work.” (Zomorodi)
“Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander,” she says, “you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place.” (Professor Sandi Mann)
“An fMRI, which measures brain activity, can show you exactly what happens when you’re bored. Your brain begins to connect disparate ideas and problem solve as it begins to do something called ‘autobiographical planning.’ This is when we look back at our lives, we take note of the big moments, we create a personal narrative and then we set goals and we figure out what steps we need to take to reach them.
“But constantly scrolling through your phone or multitasking prohibits your brain from performing this function. When we do want to do work, “we chill out on the couch also while updating a Google Doc or replying to email.” (Zomorodi)
We may thing that by doing this, we are “getting s--- done,” she shares with us research by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin disagrees. Levitin explains the downside of multi-tasking. He explains that multi-tasking actually forces the brain to engage in a neurochemical “switch” that literally consumes the brains ability to process information.
Levitin states, “So if you’re attempting to multitask, you know, doing four or five things at once, you’re not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn’t work that way. Instead, you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.”
After listening to the talk, I reflected on my own journey as an entrepreneur. I realized that some of my very best ideas came shortly after periods where I was forced to be detached from constant pressing demands of work and when I allowed my mind to wander.
So, I decided to try being bored on my next flights. I spent several hours doing essentially nothing on those flights – and it seemed to work. The day after each flight I had a key insight into a work related issue I had been struggling with.
You might want to give being bored a chance. Here is the link to her TED Talk. I hope it helps you like it helped me.