Why doodling is the cure for at-work brain farts

"So, that's the idea in a nutshell. Bill, I'd really love to hear what you think." Bill thinks nothing, because the nutshell was huge and his mind wandered. So Bill stinks up the room with his silent-but-violent brain fart.

Tut tut, Bill. You should've doodled your way through. Here's why doodling is a serious player in the office concentration game.

The rise of visual thinking

Search Twitter for 'sketchnotes' or 'visual facilitation'. You’ll find hundreds of amazing illustrators who make a living drawing serious, money-making ideas for serious, money-making businesses.

Whiteboard explainer videos, where spoken words are simultaneously drawn out by hand, have exploded in popularity – thanks to their ability to boost problem solving and memory.

The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People is an international bestseller. It's for adults and is available in 16 'languages', though I'm unsure how you ‘translate’ a black-and-white geometric pattern.

It's conventional wisdom now that drawings – and drawing – can boost information intake, concentration, attentiveness and recall.

Proving the power of the doodle

This is especially true of doodling, when you draw spontaneous images that are unrelated to what you're listening to.

One academic study found that people who doodled were able to remember 29% more of what they'd heard than those who didn't.

Sunni Brown is the author of The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently. Here's what Sunni has to say about doodling:

We think doodling is something you do when you lose focus, but in reality, it is a pre-emptive measure to stop you from losing focus.

Stop the doodle shaming

When Hillary Clinton was 'caught' doodling during a UN meeting, the press had a field day with headlines about switching off and tuning out.

But Clinton is just the latest high-profile figure to discover the benefits of doodling during mentally-strenuous work. There's a whole book devoted to the doodles of former American presidents.

Under no circumstances should doodling be eradicated from a classroom or a boardroom or even the war room. On the contrary, doodling should be leveraged in precisely those situations where information density is very high and the need for processing that information is very high. – Sunni Brown

Next time you 'catch' a colleague doodling as you speak, don't assume they're bored. And if you feel yourself slipping away from the task at hand, reach for the sketchpad and pencil.

Let's talk doodles

Do you doodle? Does it help? Let's chat below the line or on Twitter.


David Root - 11/10/2015 10:16 PM

I've been a doodler my entire life. Often it was when I was bored, and needed an unobtrusive distraction. However, I find that my doodles often reflect what is happening around me -- snippets of the conversation turned into graphics -- and would help focus my thoughts.

As a teacher, I would prefer my students were doodling than finding other, more disruptive ways of coping.

Helen Caton Hughes - 8/14/2015 10:16 AM

In our training we actively encourage people to doodle, or create with play materials. I'm a note-taker - but it looks like scribble. We call this 'accelerated learning'. Because you can't take everything in at full concentration, all the time. It's a way of getting your thoughts together and sifting through ideas, information and learning. We can typically absorb about 16 seconds worth of material before we start to 'sift'. Which is why international speakers will say a sentence and then pause before the translator kicks in. That's all the translator can cope with - yet they're doing us all a favour - because we can all benefit from that pause.

Laura E. Kelly - 8/12/2015 5:53 PM

I've doodled in the margins of spiral notebooks in school, in the margins of boring agendas at work, and now in the margins of magazines as I watch boring ads on TV. My father and his father before him, both lawyers, also doodled all the time, including in the courtroom. Doodling isn't tuning out, it's just a way of occupying an idling brain so it's ready to rev up when needed. I just wish all this doodling had made me a good artist!

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