Spark Your Creativity with Idleness

Two chairs at beach by Trey Ratcliff

This article was, in fact, born of an idle afternoon. I know that it seems a paradox to have anything at all produced out of idleness. Yet, truer words cannot be uttered.

The Product of Idleness

After having done an incredible amount of research on the subject of idleness, and with about fifteen tabs open in my Internet browser, I was poised at the computer ready to produce a witty and poignant article. But as the empty white screen glowed back at me, my mind went blank.

I did not panic. I took a deep breath, shut down my computer, and stepped outside on to my front porch. Sinking into a soft chair and kicking up my feet, I watched the cottonwood pollen float lazily through the air like a gentle summer snow. I simply let time pass, slowly and yes… idly.

I let a fluff of cottonwood pollen drop into my hand. An intricate web of silky tendrils spread out from one tiny seed, perfectly suited to drift upon the wind. I released it, and it literally lifted out of my palm and floated away, leisurely sailing toward its next destination – a patch of dirt, or perhaps a crack in the sidewalk.

I looked up at the huge, strong tree from which this pollen puff was born. Its leaves rippled into uncountable shades of green and white as they caught the breeze. The cottonwood tree had nothing else to do but grow, and it did so perfectly. It did so according to the rhythm of the seasons. It could be rushed along no more than it could be made to produce apple blossoms or acorns.

What lesson could I learn from the cottonwood tree? Know the destination, relax, slow the pace, and let things unfold exactly as they will.

When Industriousness Became a Virtue

I thought about the idea of industriousness. When did accomplishment usurp the pleasure of quiet contemplation? When did productivity become such a coveted virtue?

Woman in factory by George Eastman House

From what I understand, efficiency and long hours of labor overtook the importance of leisure time during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. I find this an interesting irony, as the mechanization of previously laborious tasks was supposed to free people’s time for leisure activities. Instead, a capitalist civilization was born. With it, the “more is better” attitude began to vilify idleness. Time unused for industry became time wasted.

You may find yourself asking the same question as I did: Didn’t people during the Middle Ages and Renaissance period work harder than the factory workers that followed them, and much harder than we do now?

No, actually, they did not. While their labors might have been more physically exhausting, they actually worked about half the time per day than we do. A typical day for a medieval laborer was just about four hours, as he would begin much after the morning had started, take a rest at lunch, and be finished by dusk. There were also an incredible number of holidays taken each year, not just the perfunctory government holidays and perhaps a week vacation (if you’re lucky).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average American citizen with children at home works 8.8 hours per day and sleeps only 7.6 hours each night! That doesn’t even include time spent volunteering in schools and for various organizations. We are consumed by work, and when we are home, we are often too busy to let ourselves rest.

Bring Back the Idle Mind!

I’m sure you must know that down time is important for our bodies and brains. But so often we spend our “down time” watching television, surfing the Internet, or playing on our smartphones. Our brains would absolutely disagree. Stimulation is stimulation, no matter if it’s for “work” or for “fun.” Just like a computer, our minds need to shut down for a bit each day in order to reboot. In fact, isn’t it after a period of calm and quiet that we often come up with our greatest ideas?

…isn’t it after a period of calm and quiet that we often come up with our greatest ideas?

My children call this boredom, and they act as if it’s the enemy. The other day, my nine year old daughter sat on the kitchen floor with her arms wrapped around her knees.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“None of my friends can play. I’m bored.”

“That’s excellent!” I responded.

She looked at me quizzically. It used to be my habit to try to alleviate my children of their boredom by coming up with an activity, a game, or a chore to fill their time. No more!

“Idle minds breed magnificent thoughts,” I said. Then I walked away to rest in the hammock. I didn’t see my daughter for several hours, but I heard her inside talking (presumably to herself). Finally, she emerged with a huge grin on her face.

“Look what I did, Mom!”

She showed me something incredible. She had created an entire alien-themed Claymation video on her iPad! She molded the characters out of clay, set up a backdrop, created the storyline, and completed the project all on her own. I was impressed. I asked her how she got the idea.

“I laid on the floor for a long time looking at the ceiling. The light looked like a spaceship, then BOOM, I thought of it.”

Thanks, boredom!

More on Being Idle


I was so overwhelmed by this idea of idle time that I had to find out more on the subject. (Oh, the irony.) I was delighted to discover a book extolling the virtues of lying about and doing nothing. How to Be Idle, by Tom Hodgkinson, was not only a pleasure to read, it was refreshing to hear someone telling me to kick back and relax.


I enjoyed it so much that I also read The Idle Parent by the same author, in which he teaches us that children should learn to cook breakfast and make coffee so that we may have time to rest. He also talks about how children should not be overbooked and overstressed, but I like the breakfast and coffee bit the best!

Questions for You

Do you make time to do nothing? I’m certainly going to do it more often. When you decide to do nothing, tell us about what awesome epiphany, creative endeavor, physical change, or cognitive improvement ensues. I think it’s time to start an Idle Revolution! Share your thoughts with us below…

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  • http://ReflectOnThis.com Christopher J. Moore

    Welcome to Reflect On This Melinda! We are thrilled to have you on the site. Really loved this post. Looking forward to more… Maybe after a little idle time. ;-)

  • http://adapdevelopment.com Peter Marty

    Nice post!
    I figured it was time that I comment on the ROT blog :) I can relate to this post the best so far as I am currently in between jobs. In this time I have chosen to take a little idle time to think of creative projects to help me excel in my next job/career move. I have decided to take up a personal project that is 100% my own during this in-between stage which will also help me in my next career move as a good portfolio piece.
    I work as a web developer (much more than full time job) and month after month of code crunching in front of a computer screen, I needed to take a little time to do a more relaxing project. I am an only a digital creationist, I also sketch and paint which is extremely relaxing and creative for me. My art allows me to step back and reflect on my overall purpose as well as my day to day goals as I create at the same time.
    Every “creative” knows the importance of stepping back to reflect and do nothing, or do something more mindless to allow their creativity to flow. What I have chosen to do will (God willing), allow me to push my skill-set to the next level by exploring a new style of illustration, brining those illustrations digital to eventuate in a final product of an e-commerce website.
    So overall this idle time as it is, falls upon the perfect time in my life and career. As side perk, the project I am working on also allows involvement from my family as well, which is the best part of it all :)
    *Thanks again for the quick read*

    • http://adapdevelopment.com Peter Marty

      Wow so many typos in my comment, oops.

      • http://ReflectOnThis.com Chris Moore

        Feel free to email me the edited version and I will clean things up for you! ;-)

  • http://www.landcare.com/ Truegreen

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. cheers

    • http://ReflectOnThis.com Chris Moore

      Thanks for noticing, and for commenting! Yes, I made this website myself, with some help from a few important resources. Feel free to get in touch with me for more details: Contact Moore Creative Ideas