2019 Reading List: Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi

Do you eat breakfast with your phone in front of you? Have you picked up your phone in the last 20 minutes? Are you addicted to social media or gaming apps? Do you get panicky if you can’t find your phone (or if the battery is less than 20%)?

Chances are, you answered yes to at least one of those questions. Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Creative Self, by Manoush Zomorodi addresses this societal issue.

The book isn’t about cell phones though. Of course, phones are today’s number one source of entertainment and distraction, but the point of this book is that we don’t leave enough time in our day for unstructured thought. We never have to say ‘I’m bored.’ We have the opportunity and ability to jump from one source of media to the next. Facebook to Instagram to Candy Crush to text messaging to email and back again.

When is the last time you actually just – did nothing? I certainly can’t remember.

Zomorodi’s book is a wake-up call and a challenge. She says that our most creative, productive ideas come from having time and space to actually think about problems, without distraction. People who are bored have more imagination and can find more solutions to a problem than people who have been scrolling on their phones just before trying to solve it.

As someone who works in a creative field and also can’t stop checking my phone for new Instagram posts or incoming messages, I found this book to be incredibly fascinating.

I have been wanting and trying to break my phone habit for months, if not years. I’m not saying that this book was the silver bullet, but it opened my eyes to why I feel this need to have less distraction and technology in my life. I couldn’t explain it before. Other people didn’t seem to have any problem with the fact that they spent two hours a day on social media. Other people didn’t seem aware at all of the fact that they had their phones in their hands while they’re walking through the park or trying to have a conversation. Other people don’t seem to think that their use of technology for every little mundane task is a problem.

Maybe it’s not a problem for them. But it is for me. And now I’ve found the book with research and stories to back up why I feel this way.

Zomorodi writes this book as a week-long challenge. How to acknowledge and start to change your relationship with your phone.

Day 1: Observe your digital technology usage. Track how you’re using your phone or other screens and what you use them for. Get an app that monitors your time spent on your phone. Write down your thoughts while using your phone. But don’t change your behavior yet.

I have an iPhone and use the Screen Time feature, so I already have a vague sense of how much time I spend on my phone. It’s usually around 2 hours a day. I have a limit of 30 minutes that I recently set for social media apps and it’s been working better now that I had my husband type in a passcode so I can’t get more time. Obviously I still spend a lot of time on news apps, email and texting.

Day 2: Keep your phone out of your sight while in transit. Whether you are in the car, on a bus, or just walking down the street, don’t look at your phone. Don’t have it in your hand. Just get to your destination.

I really enjoy listening to podcasts while I drive to work. The only time I listen to podcasts is in transit, so if I took this challenge, I would be missing a very enjoyable part of my day. I don’t text and drive, but sometimes I make phone calls. I feel productive using my phone while driving, so this challenge doesn’t particularly appeal to me. This is not the part of the day that I’m trying to change.

Day 3: Have a photo-free day. Don’t take pictures of your lunch. Don’t take pictures of your cute child doing a cute thing. Don’t take a screenshot for Snapchat. Don’t visually record anything. Just experience the day in real life.

I usually feel that I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to taking pictures of things during the day. However, after reading this chapter, I became more aware of the fact that I do take pictures to share parts of my day with my husband. Rather than just tell him I got a new office chair at work, I took a picture of it and texted it to him. Rather than just tell him I’m eating an amazing brownie that a co-worker brought in, I send a picture. I’m proud of the fact that I don’t publicly share the minutiae of my day, but I do still take some pretty dumb pictures.

Day 4: Delete the app you spend too much time on.

I deleted Facebook about a month ago, so I’m ahead of the game on this one. I still spend too much time on Instagram, considering I barely follow anyone, so that might have to be the next to go. I also spend too much time on Feedly, but I love reading blogs on my phone without having to be in front of a computer. This is a hard challenge, but probably worth it if I can get rid of a few more time-suck apps.

Day 5: Take a fake-cation. Take a break from your screens for an hour or a day. Turn off notifications. Don’t respond. Turn off your phone or leave it behind. And tell people that you’re doing this and that you won’t be responding. Make it a thing.

I do try to take breaks from my phone, but it’s not usually planned or structured. At home, I’ll try to leave my phone in the kitchen while I watch a movie. On weekends, I try to leave my phone by my bed in the morning so I can have a phone-free morning with my coffee and a book. Since I work at an agency with clients who need to get in contact with me, I’m not sure it would go over well if I just took off in the middle of the day.

Day 6: Notice things. Take the Day 2 challenge a step further and actually observe your surroundings. Put your phone away, sit somewhere public or different, and notice what’s going on in the world around you. Even better, write down what you see. Take notes.

This challenge sounds lovely and I definitely want to practice this more. I’ve already been trying to be more conscious of my phone usage when I stand in lines, trying not to just immediately whip out my phone.  Instead, I watch the people around me. In the grocery store, I try to imagine what they might be cooking, who they’re buying these groceries for. I’d love to keep doing this and take this challenge further.

Day 7: Watch a pot of water boil or write 1’s and 0’s on a piece of paper until the paper is full. Then think about a problem or plan in your life and see if you can come up with ideas or solutions. Watching water boil or writing 1’s and 0’s gets you in bored frame of mind, ready to be more creative.

This challenge sounds scary. This is what it all comes down to. Can you really take the time, even 20 minutes, to do nothing and just think? It’s one thing to try to use my phone less, but it feels like another level to actually decide that I’m going to do nothing so that I can think more creatively. But this is supposed to be a challenge and challenges are not supposed to be easy.


After all this, do you think you’d change your habits? Do you even want to change your relationship with your phone?


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