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Why Doodling Is Good for Getting Stuff Done

July 22, 2019

If teachers or colleagues ever told you that doodling was a sign of distraction, or evidence of an empty mind, take heart. Science would beg to differ. Apparently aimless shapes, squiggles, and patterns across the page are, in fact, a sign of creativity and focus. Doodling is the mind’s way of staying alert, primed for action. It’s like mental fidgeting. Filling in space with a pen is quite the opposite of staring into space. Here’s why you should do it more to get stuff done.


Doodling Improves Focus

Doodling may send out a message to others in the meeting that your attention has wandered, but you can counter with scientific evidence that, on the contrary, yours is the sharpest mind in the room. A seminal 2009 study by psychologist Jackie Andrade exposed subjects to an uninspiring voicemail message. Those who were doodling while listening recalled 29% more information than those who weren’t. The study suggests that far from tuning out, your mind is locked into the essentials while you’re busy doodling.

Subconscious Drawing Enhances Creativity

The essential characteristic of doodling is that it’s spontaneous and free. You’re not trying to draw something from memory—which would indeed occupy your attention—so much as letting your hand roam at liberty. In that respect, doodling helps the brain make sense of subconscious thoughts without the pressure to organize them into a coherent narrative. Like dreams, they are a shortcut to the subconscious. So, if you’re struggling to come up with a killer paragraph, master plan, or genius solution to a tricky problem, let your doodling hand reveal the answer.

A Natural Way to Relieve Stress

A common criticism of doodling dismisses it as a childish activity. Dr. Robert Burns, a psychologist who has devoted his professional life to studying doodles, would argue that doodling is more childlike than childish. The problem is that we stop doing it as we get older. Where the adult mind can overthink the stresses and conflicts of everyday life, the childlike mind reduces them to their simplest form. This phenomenon is behind the resurgence of coloring books and doodling pads for adults. These have been used in behavioral art therapy for some time, and they’re a powerful and harmless way to unlock stress.

Drawing Makes You Smarter

Several influential figures in education have argued that doodling should not just be tolerated in the classroom but actively encouraged. High school and college education place great emphasis on verbal reasoning, but this is not always the most fluent way for the brain to express itself. Doodling can be effective in note taking, brainstorming, and in representing complex concepts in a more digestible form. The National Science Foundation also supports the use of pictures and doodles in the learning process, mirroring the way many of us learn better through hands-on experience.

What Your Doodle Reveals About You

At the risk of overanalyzing the subconscious mind, certain doodles do reveal consistent personality traits or preoccupations. For a start, we tend to commit to paper what’s important to us. If you’re doodling hearts, trees, suns, or dogs, for example, there’s a strong chance that you’re ready for a romance, hike, vacation, or pet, respectively. Straight lines and strong geometric shapes indicate a logical, determined mind. Circular or rounded shapes, such as swirls, eyes, and flowers, suggest a need for harmony and love. If you’re looking for insight into how a person sees themselves in the world, look at the relationship between the objects they draw and the space available. Outgoing, confident people tend to fill up the page. Introverts or observers do the opposite.

Ultimately, we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s more to doodling than we thought. After all, drawing predates language and writing by a significant stretch of time. With modern psychology on your side, you can take up your pen or pencil with confidence, safe in the knowledge that you are never too important, busy, or intelligent to doodle. Far from it. You may even discover that doodling helps you unlock potential that was previously hidden.

Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround.

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