Modern hustle culture teaches us that it’s important to be productive from sun up to sun down, and that the only way to progress is to try twice as hard. Free time is viewed as time when you’re not living up to your potential and connected to traits like laziness and sloth. For freelancers or anyone in a profession where creativity is key, the pressure to fill all your time with work or busy-ness can be even more pronounced.
However, research finds that people who enjoy times of leisure and a slower pace might be the most creative of us all! The University of Arizona found that it’s like that principle of “it’s not how much time you have, it’s how you use it”. For the creative person, time spent being idle may be more enjoyable than idle time for someone who doesn’t flex their creative muscles as much.
The study analyzed eighty-one participants who sat with no other distractions in a room by themselves who were asked to let their thoughts wander. They were instructed to voice their thoughts and let their stream of consciousness flow. There were no prompts or categories requested of the participants which is a deviation from most psychological research that usually leads or frames the thinking of those people being tested in the studies.
A secondary portion of the study involved an exercise in divergent thinking where thoughts were linked and associated to one another. The most creative people were better occupied when left alone with their thoughts and reported being less bored on their self-assessments afterwards. They also vocalized more thoughts than those who reported themselves as less creative.
This was confirmed by the analysis of almost three-thousand adults who participated in an online app called Mind Window which was developed by one of the main researchers of this study. They were particularly interested in how people felt when they had more time to be less socially occupied, as they were in 2020. Again, people who identified themselves as creative found that time to be more enjoyable than those who didn’t prefer to spend time alone with their thoughts.
Taking frequent breaks can boost productivity and creativity, so it helps us rethink where this modern hustle culture is going. Hopefully we can also learn to be more comfortable with time that isn’t completely occupied—and recognize that our minds and bodies can flourish, even if it appears we’re stuck on idle and not in the fast lane.
Quentin Raffaelli, Rudy Malusa, Nadia-Anais de Stefano, Eric Andrews, Matthew D. Grilli, Caitlin Mills, Darya L. Zabelina, Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna. Creative Minds at Rest: Creative Individuals are More Associative and Engaged with Their Idle Thoughts. Creativity Research Journal, 2023; 1 DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2023.2227477