Podcast discussion: Where is the daydreaming time in your life?

Best of Both Worlds is 2 months old, and we've crossed 40,000 downloads! Thanks so much to everyone who has downloaded the podcast and listened to it. A special thanks to people who have subscribed (so you don't have to go looking for it each week!) and have rated or reviewed it.

Sarah listens to Manoush Zomorodi's Note to Self podcast, and had recently read her new book, Bored and Brilliant. In the book, Manoush talks about lessening our reliance on boredom busters (generally web surfing, social media, and games on our phones) and keeping open space for daydreaming. That's when many people get their best ideas, and the fact that we never let ourselves be bored means we're cutting off a great source of creativity. The problem is that boredom isn't fun. Hence the quick phone checks. But it's necessary.

Anyway, today's episode hooks onto that book, and covers how we deal with tech: texting, email, etc. Today's discussion question: where is the white space in your life? When do you do your thinking? Are there times you purposefully cut yourself off from communication and let yourself be bored, so you can be brilliant?

I tend to do this while running. I generally don't listen to anything while I run. If I'm on the treadmill, sometimes I'll listen to a podcast or music, but when I'm outside I never do. And so if I'm running by myself (and 6 out of 7 days I am) I'm doing a lot of what Manoush calls "autobiographical planning" and turning various things I've seen into a narrative. It's kind of like writing the rough draft of a blog post.

Sarah listens to music or podcasts while running, but she mentioned occasionally leaving open space while she's in the car, or getting a massage (not that this happens all that often! But sometimes!). A few other good times for thinking: If I'm fortunate enough to have woken up without the 2-year-old screaming for me, I love to lie in bed and just daydream. I find that those moments of going in and out of sleep can be particularly fruitful. Lots of people get good ideas in the shower. Some people like to sit in a coffee shop and people watch. Or stare out the window on the train. When I'm supervising the kids in the backyard, sometimes I like to leave the phone inside. That's partly about interacting with the kids, but often they're doing their own thing, and so that allows me to do my own thing too.

Where is your mental white space? Have you ever tried to create more daydreaming time in your life? What are some of the great ideas that have come to you in this white space?

 

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  • First, something I don't do: I don't try to think while I'm walking (outside, which is how I exercise). The extra movement is fodder for morbid rumination for me so I listen to podcasts and such to prevent that from happening. Some things are better not dwelt on OR dwelling on some things will never resolve them but only make me more frustrated with them. Audiobooks can require more focus and thus end up feeding the morbid rumination, but podcasts are lighter and just work very well for me. That said, nature hikes are where I really relax and get that clearing of the slate that sets me up for great ideas. I try to go for a hike once a week. When I get back, I am often doing the mundane tasks required by life, but as I do them, ideas pop out at me and all of a sudden I'm on a roll again with zest and enthusiasm for the projects I'm working on.

    • @Tana - interesting. I tend not to have really negative thoughts while running - maybe my runner's high mostly takes over. If there was morbid rumination going on, I would definitely want to get away from that.

  • I use my commute to create white space--I'm lucky to live a mile from my workplace and I try to use my walking time to think and observe instead of consume news, music, or talk. I'm a librarian and I sometimes have no control over the flow of the day, but I always have control over recurring appointments that sit on my calendar. A few days a week, I schedule in short blocks of time for intentional thinking/planning, which helps me stay on track with long-term projects. I have two toddlers and I feel like the white space has disappeared from my home life, though I do prioritize sleep...

    • @Robin- the toddler stage is rough for white space. You have to be always on. Nap time can be white space, but of course there's always a million other things that have to happen during non-toddler time too! The good news is it does get better. I'm starting to get some white space while the 2-year-old is awake these days as he can play by himself for a little bit.

      • Yes, I absolutely cherish nap time, and evenings after the kids are asleep. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the interim, I'm trying to create some time within the workday. It helps to have a relatively flexible job and also tenure at the university where I work... :-)

  • I go for a walk after lunch most days. That is my white space- I don't listen to anything while I walk. I just let my mind wander. It is amazing the number of solutions to problems and just general good ideas I get while walking. I defend that time more rigorously than I do my actual lunch time! I'll work while I eat if I need to do that to make space for the walk.

    • @Cloud - getting outside and going for a walk is a great way to have the brain piece stuff together. When I'm stuck I'll often go for a run. It does get things sorted out!

  • I am an introvert working in a very loud shared office space with faculty offices right behind my desk-so I can barely think about my work, let alone daydream! I am like Cloud and go for a long walk on campus for at least 45 minutes every day, either broken up into two 20 minute coffee breaks or a longer walk where I just wander and think. Our biosafety facilities also have no internet and I'm banned from taking in a phone (once you take something in past the antechamber, it lives there forever...). Since it takes nearly 30 minutes to suit up each time I enter, I usually use a 1h incubation to just sit and think-very useful!

    • @DVStudent- talk about forced thinking time! Yes, I imagine sitting in a biosafety facility where you can't take anything would be quite an experience for some people. I read about an experiment where people intentionally gave themselves small shocks to avoid boredom, which is just funny to think about.

  • I don't listen to anything on my short and hard runs. Sometimes the hard workouts are good because they allow me to really just focus on my body - but often I feel just comfortable enough to both think and run. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or music in the car - sometimes not. I don't reflexively turn the radio on. I do really really love being awake by myself in the house between 5 and 6am in summer. That quiet time is just so nice.

  • Just an off-topic aside to the podcast episode...Laura, I feel as a (slightly) younger reader, I have to tell you that I seriously cringed when I heard you still use Yahoo for your email! Honestly, if I didn't know or like your work already and saw that you had a Yahoo address but were purporting to be a time management/productivity author, I would seriously question your "cred." I realize you are not a technology blogger/author, but I do think the spheres intersect. To me a Yahoo address would just send an out-of-touch/outdated vibe that probably is not in line with the message you want to send. OH! And it feels particularly egregious now after their hack last year! It adds an extra layer of cringe. Make the switch to Gmail (or your own hosted domain run by Gmail), I beg you!

    • @Holly- interesting. I have a Gmail account, and I have a laura at lauravanderkam account, and I always migrate back to my yahoo account, because I find the classic mail (pro/paid version) the one I like best. One of my biggest productivity tips to people is that if a system works for you, great! This is why I have a paper calendar and paper planner -- they work for me. Also, I would question that productivity and technology are big overlaps. They can be-- technology is a tool like anything else. It's just about figuring out what's the right tool for the job. For many people, I suspect that the cause of productivity would be best pursued by spending less time on their phones, and more time engaging with ideas, or with people in real life. I'm trying to spend less time on my phone except for reading ebooks these days (an example of a technology that I think really is quite helpful).

      • I still use my yahoo account and while I set up a gmail account - the mental energy to switch everything over seems like too much effort. I sometimes cringe at myself since I'm not where the cool kids are, but I don't think it's lost me any credibility. Where I find the loss in credibility is when someone is using their Pickle485@yahoo.com or Smoshiegirrl78@aol.com instead of taking the time to set up a more professional looking email. Now with yahoo being sold to verizon maybe I will finally switch.

      • Re: the technology overlap, I meant more from a readers/audience perspective, not necessarily actual content (because I agree with you!). Also, one more thought I had--I think there's a very real chance of Yahoo mail not existing in 2-3 years (if that long), so you may have to change eventually! I'd be curious if other people shared this view though...maybe I'm just prejudiced against Yahoo, haha.

  • I feel like I often have my best ideas when I'm half asleep! I also consider anytime I'm just listening to music (usually quietly) to be pretty white space so, showering, running, sometimes driving. But I'm usually either interacting with people (mainly my husband and/or son), or filling my head with an input like reading or listening to a podcast. Actual quiet QUIET time is rare!

  • When I returned to my teaching job at the beginning of September, I decided to mindfully schedule white space breaks. I now go on a 10-15 minute walk every day during lunch, and it's become my favorite time of day. If I don't get it, I get irritable. I also have a 30 minute commute, and while I prefer podcasts or audiobooks to fill the time, I will often turn everything off after a long day and let my brain go where it wants. I'm pretty sure my anxiety levels would be through the roof, and my creativity would dip, if I didn't cultivate blank space.