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Idleness and Being Creative

Between the Trees by Ellie Davies

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble.” – Agatha Christie

We may feel pressured to stay busy and keep producing, but is there some value for developing creativity in being idle for a time?

In his article Why We Like to Keep BusyJohn Grohol (founder & CEO of Psych Central) refers to studies in which “researchers discovered that we can be happy doing nothing at all and remaining idle.

“But given even the slimmest of reasons to be busy doing something, and most people will opt for doing something over nothing. The researchers also found that people were happier when they were busy, even if they were forced into busyness.”


One of the stages of creative thinking and productivity is incubation: You think about a problem or project, gather ideas related to it, then take a break – maybe a shower, a walk or something that takes longer, and don’t consciously work on the project, but allow the ideas you’ve gathered to percolate.

Maybe our busyness interferes with that.

For a better description, hear an audio clip by neuropsychologist by Rex Jung on why incubation is something we can cultivate to enhance our creative potential, in my article The Creativity Conference with David Burkus.

In her article Why Do Creatives Love Nature So Much? Science, Psychology, and Nostalgia, Hanna Olsen notes:

“We already know that time off is great for rejuvenating creativity — though just leaving the office (but taking your work email with you) doesn’t really count.

“Instead, for optimal rebooting, your brain needs to idle for a while.”

She quotes Lawton Ursery, writing for Forbes: “Idleness isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity in order to be at your peak. It’s backed by neuroscience. Idleness truly makes your brain function better.”

Lawton Ursery writes in his Forbes article [“Your Brain Unplugged: Proof That Spacing Out Makes You More Effective” – see link in above article]:

“I talked to Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, to get a better understanding of the science behind idleness and how it is that our brain is more active when it’s not focused on something specific.

“Andrew Smart wants you to take a break—sit and do nothing. We’re taught that taking on more is better—it makes us more valuable. The reality is that doing too many things makes us less efficient.”

Olsen continues: “And, of course, where better to idle than in the quiet serenity of a beautiful hike in the woods?

“Nature might also be a prime destination for creative folks because of the primal pleasures it offers, like the smells, sounds, and sights that greet your senses when you, say, don’t have a phone in your hand.

“When you hit the trail, you can expect at least one sensory boost; color theory expert Tobi Fairley explains that the color green has been linked to more creative thinking.”

Photo: ‘Between the Trees’ by Ellie Davies [] from article: 7 Outdoor Photographers You Should Know by Hanna Olsen.

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for the CreativeLive training marketplace.

> Concluded in Part 2.


Idleness and Being Creative

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2017). Idleness and Being Creative. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 May 2017
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