Thursday, February 21, 2013

The "Creative Pause"

I don’t like wasting time and I don’t like being bored. I’m the one in line at the airport reading a book, or in the grocery store checking emails at the check-out. I have a hard time arriving early to events and waiting for the function or performance to begin. I’ll avoid arriving too early to a movie because I don’t want to sit in the theatre waiting in the dark. I buy tickets online in advance and arrive as close to the start time as I can.

I realize that I may sound “type A”, but really I’m not. I’m not a perfectionist or wildly competitive. Nor do I consider myself controlling. But what I am for sure is impatient. Is this a bad quality? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. During job interviews I’ve responded to the question, “What is your biggest flaw?” with, “I’m impatient.” I follow this by saying that I’m motivated to get the job done and find it difficult to wait for others to do their part. I’m efficient. I’m a “let’s get the job done” kind of person. No dilly-dallying.

My family is not like that, especially my teenage boys. They move at their own pace and it’s even challenging for them to get to school on time (despite living just around the corner). One of my sons had over thirty ‘lates’ during his first term. “But I’m only a minute or two late,” he says. He thinks it’s worth the sporadic detentions he receives. He says he hates wasting time sitting at his desk waiting for class to begin. This, I understand.

I bring reading material wherever I go. But this can also cause problems. One time, I was waiting for my number to come up at the passport office. They were at 42 when I arrived and my number was 96, so I pulled out my book and started to read. When I looked up to check the numbers several minutes later, they were only at 46. I’ll be here forever, I thought. My nose went back into my book. The next time I looked up (about forty-five minutes later), the number was at 105. I rushed to one of the kiosks and showed the attendant my 96. “Too bad you missed it,” she said. “Can you please squeeze me in next,” I pleaded? “Sorry,” she said. “You’ll have to get a new number and start over.” I was incensed. “You’re kidding me,” I said. “Sorry,” she said, grimacing. “I can’t help you.”

This past Christmas Eve I had a few errands to do during the day: buy a baguette for the next morning, flowers for the hostess that evening, a book for my husband. But everywhere I went, the lines at the cash were huge, sometimes trailing outside the door. When my turn came to be served at the bakery counter, there were no more baguettes. I left the store frustrated and agitated. The bookstore was no better; the line was about twenty minutes long. Same at the flower shop. The holiday bustle, which I usually enjoy, exasperated me. Walking down the street in search of another bakery, I came across a nail salon, the only establishment not crammed with people. So I went in and had a pedicure – oh, such peace, such joy, such a pleasant interlude! However, by the time I was done, I had to rush home, empty-handed and late, to get ready for the festivities. No time to shower, iron my dress, or tidy up. I was a madwoman, trying to get myself and the family ready and on the road.

And of course, we were late.

What I’ve learned from this reflection is not so much a lesson on time management and patience, but a lesson about boredom. I need to fill every moment with a constructive activity, something that makes me feel I’m using time, one of our most precious commodities, efficiently. “Only boring people get bored,” the saying goes.

The other day I heard about a study revealing that “boring and bored” are not bad words, that when our minds are inactive is when our creativity can flourish. The mind needs to settle down and be still in order to absorb ideas and allow for our imagination to work. This can happen while waiting your turn in a line, taking a shower, or even brushing your teeth. It’s called “the creative pause.” It seems I’m not alone in this “do anything to keep from being bored” mindset. Electronic gadgets are the best boredom fighters ever invented and they are ubiquitous: joggers listening to iPods, pedestrians talking on their cell phones, and until recently, drivers texting on the road.

Not long ago, I asked my doctor if there is a motion-sickness drug that would prevent me from feeling queasy while reading on the subway. She smiled and said, “How about putting your book down, closing your eyes, or watching the people instead?” That would be so boring, I thought at the time.

Perhaps she and those boredom studies are right. Maybe we all need to give ourselves permission to give our minds a break. If I’d had a little more patience and was less worried about being bored, I’d have completed my tasks on Christmas Eve, been less frazzled getting ready, and not been late for the festivities. And maybe I’d have given my head a creative break. But then, I wouldn’t have had nice toenails.


  1. I don't think I'm particularly impatient, but passport offices and Christmas line-ups bring out the least tolerant side of me! And I struggle with boredom. When I know there will be a wait, I, too, try to bring a book or at least my phone so I can check messages. But I know that it's those moments when I'm doing nothing at all that my mind wanders and I come up with the best ideas.

    1. Hi Carla! Great blog.

      As far as I am concerned I don't even have the word bored as part of my vocabulary for at least 20 years.

      When I know I might have to wait in a queue I plan ahead and bring a book but pay attention to my main goal which is of course what I am standing in line for.

      As a seasoned professional woman I would never tell an employer that my weakness was impatience as that about kills your chances of getting into management for which I have been in for well over 20 yrs. You may feel it but you never say it in an interview. It does not come off well as in you know best and forget the others. You could always say you are such an efficiency expert that when you see deficiencies which of course are opportunities for improvement in the company environment that you are frustrated if they are not addressed.

      Most of my previous life I was tardy. That stemmed from my impatience. What I learned long ago was that being "too efficient" and therefore cutting things so close that I was frequently late was a sign of disrespect to those hosting whatever event I was to attend. As someone who has organized many social and business club events, not to mention personal events I finally "got it". It is rude to think my time is more precious than others so since then I have made a valiant attempt to be on time if not a couple of minutes early. Mind you I am now 50 and this lesson took a long time to learn.

      I have known you most of my life (since we were about 6). I think perhaps you are being a bit hard on yourself. The thing about being on time though might be better.

  2. I think this incessant need we all seem to have to be constantly "doing" is almost epidemic today. As children we would get bored and our mother's would tell us to go find something to do. That is when the most creative solutions were born I think. Forts were built, new games were invented, mischief was made. As adults, these moments of forced boredom may be just what the doctor ordered if we just were still long enough to "be".

  3. A very interesting piece, Carla, and eye-opening as I'm the opposite. By nature, I tend to run late but I work on that because I prefer to arrive early. I like getting first pick of seats at the movie theatre. If I'm with someone, it's an opportunity to chat. If I'm alone, I'm never bored if I have a book or my Blackberry with me. It's a great time to catch up on emails. I prefer the calm that comes with having plenty of extra time not to worry about traffic or unforeseen circumstances. As you know, I'm happy to sit around by the gate at the airport, knowing that security is behind me and I've arrived in plenty of time! However, ask my husband. I often do run late to social events because of wardrobe issues or just not allowing enough time to get ready, or getting distracted. Or trying to fit in 'just one more thing'! I'm not sure that there's a 'perfect' way to handle time. And having nice nails -- well, there are some things that are worth running late for!