how you can re-frame those boring tasks that you resent as gifts of empty space

As I lie in bed next to my daughter, I am pondering my recent writer’s block.

I don’t have anything worth saying. I overthink it. I don’t have enough time for it. Why did I ever think I should do this? I have zero imagination.

Etcetera, etcetera.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s description of the mental diatribe she has to quieten every time she sits down to write.

…You try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be cancelled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. ‘Bird By Bird’, p 6-7

It is pitch black and I am trying not to fall asleep. I think I am succeeding when my daughter’s voice permeates the darkness;

“Can you turn your snoring quiet?”

I HAVE A COLD! I’m not even asleep!

Anyway, I lie there and I begin to reflect on the many times I have been forced into a moment of empty space by parenting and simply running a household. Countless times I have lain beside one of them, I have breastfed on oh, several million occasions, hung out washing 26,000 times (I don’t iron by the way), I have cooked so many meals, spent many hours cleaning a bathroom that seems to be covered in fluff and dirt half an hour later.

I have read many children’s stories. Has anyone else noticed it is possible to read a children’s book and have a lucid and fruitful train of thought going on at the same time? Especially if it’s a book you’ve read many times and it rhymes (I recommend Duck in a Truck and Room on the Broom for some good thinking time). 

In a TED talk titled How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas, Manoush Zomorodi says that when we are bored our brains make new connections and solve problems.

So going from one app to another on my phone all day long is depleting my brain of the energy it needs to create. I have written about phone use before and its detriment is no news to many of us. But this revelation about boring tasks means I can appreciate the household jobs I resent because I can’t possibly hold my phone whilst cleaning the kitchen floor. Dusting is now a gift. Cleaning the oven; a delight!

Ok, now I’ve gone too far. But when doing those things, I can definitely think. And not only that, I can rest my brain. For so long I have persuaded myself that these tasks are a good use of my time and that doing six things at once on my laptop and phone is simply getting stuff done. Yet why do I feel so tired and ineffective sometimes? Why do I sit down to write and feel like my brain has nothing left to give?


Zomorodi set up a challenge called Bored and Brilliant, which encouraged the participants to cut down their phone use. An app on their phones told them how much time they were spending on their phone per day. Here’s what she says about some of the results:

Researchers at USC have found — they’re studying teenagers who are on social media while they’re talking to their friends or they’re doing homework, and two years down the road, they are less creative and imaginative about their own personal futures and about solving societal problems, like violence in their neighbourhoods. And we really need this next generation to be able to focus on some big problems: climate change, economic disparity, massive cultural differences. No wonder CEOs in an IBM survey identified creativity as the number one leadership competency.

This has challenged me to think about how I teach my kids to self-regulate when it comes to technology. Because digital media platforms will all be working to get as much of their attention as possible. Just like they’re working for mine. Now and in the future, my best method for teaching them this is to model it. To not have my phone with me at all times. To not run to it as soon as it pings. To read actual books. To sit and think.

Instead of doing a writing goal throughout November, I decided I would aim for more boredom. I would pick up my phone less, perhaps turn it off for an evening, and read or write and allow empty space for my mind to re-energise and wander. I will let you know how it goes.

I am feeling optimistic because as I lay next to my daughter, I had the idea for this post…

PS. I’m no longer on Facebook, so if you know of anyone who reads my blog via that platform please let them know to subscribe on my homepage and get posts straight to their inbox. 

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