This simple tactic unlocks creative thinking and focus
I used to write down my daily to-do list on paper. But it's now stored in my phone's notes app. I keep tabs on work projects via Evernote. My calendar is completely digital and I can't remember the last time I handed anyone a physical business card. In short, I don't use much paper these days. Who does? But it turns out, there's a real benefit to putting pen to paper.
The next time you're stressed out at work, dwelling on a particular challenge or in need of a solution to a problem, start doodling. A growing body of research is proving that those erratic scribbles, random shapes and repetitive lines scrawled along the margins of your notebook can help boost memory and improve cognition while jumpstarting our creativity. It's also been shown to simply help us calm down, relax and think clearly.
Doodling gets a bad rap, of course, because it seems like you're zoning out, but a study by the University of Plymouth's psychology department (PDF) found that doodling uses just enough of the mind to prevent it from daydreaming. In fact, the neuroscience points to the act of scribbling to be key in unlocking the free thinking and creativity that can be hindered by otherwise mundane daily tasks and routines. In short, doodling is the secret to thinking like a trailblazing entrepreneur.
"Doodling is an act of cognition, which means that countless innovations and inventions are directly related to this time the mind spends in contemplation," says Sunni Brown, author of the The Doodle Revolution and founder of SB Ink. "One need only reference the notebooks of some of our most celebrated thinkers to begin to understand the role this universal behavior plays in the thinking and creative process." In her book, she points to some of the leaders at the world's most innovative companies—from Apple to Ford to Zappos and Disney—have all encouraged doodling to boost productivity and creativity.
You ready to start doodling? Me too. Here are a few things to keep in mind, according to those who know.
Verena Paepcke-Hjeltness, assistant professor of industrial design at Iowa State University, teaches students to "sketchnote" in order to push them to think about the material in a new way. But she reminds them that it's not about being an artist. Each person has their own style, and over time will gain confidence in their ability. But almost all her students stick with it, she says, because it requires them to think about how to visualize something instead of just memorizing it.
According to Brown, just making a circle around a solid point and then repeating that circle over and over cements a memory and absorbs an idea. These seemingly simple shapes and movements of the pen bring a meditative and mindfulness approach to what you're thinking about. When you can't land on an idea, the act of scribbling on a notepad will begin to light up different networks of the brain, which according to Brown, engages alternative information. She says this is how doodling can present a solution to a problem that seems to have slipped away.
One recent study from Drexel University measured the blood flow in the areas of the brain related to rewards while participants doodled, sketched and colored. While they engaged in these activities, there was a measured increase in blood flow compared to rest periods where blood flow decreased to normal rates. "When you engage in drawing, to the brain, that is like having chocolate—it feels good," says the study's lead author Girija Kaimal. "And doodling actually activated it the most."