Staying engaged throughout the entirety of an eight-hour work day can be tricky. Our minds naturally wander when focusing on any task for too long. Taking short breaks throughout the day by going for walks around or outside the office are great ways to reset and refocus your attention, but not everyone has the luxury of a long lunch break or an understanding manager. Instead, the next time you feel yourself losing focus mid-call or fading in the hour after lunch, try doodling.
While many of us might think of doodling as a sign of distraction or apathy, it can be a useful focusing tool. Paying continuous attention to something places a strain on the brain. Even in important meetings or calls, it’s natural to drift off after a certain point. Our brains naturally need to take breaks. This is where having a small physical outlet such as sketching or doodling can be helpful. Contrary to popular belief, doodling can be a great tool for keeping the brain engaged.
Doodling is essentially a form of fidgeting. The body attempts to keep the mind engaged, physically moving around to retain mental focus. Focusing tools such as fidget spinners or stress balls can often distract more than they keep attention. Putting pen to paper, however, is different. Sketching is an inherently creative act, regardless of your level of artistry. This simple act of making something, even a stick figure, can improve memory and engagement levels.
Paying attention to anything for too long causes stress in the brain. This is why taking breaks throughout the work day aids productivity. Doodling provides a lesser version of a break within an activity. In other words, your hands are taking a break while your mind is still at work listening. Obviously doodling can become a diversion rather than a tool when too much attention is paid to it. Find a middle ground—sketching a detailed portrait of your coworker might distract more than it refocuses, while doodling the same flower over and over could work perfectly.
Improve Your Mood
It’s hard to do good work when you’re feeling bad. Even seasoned salespeople can occasionally have calls that might trigger an emotional response. Learning how to handle angry or upset people on the phone is a skill applicable to many types of jobs. Whether working as a receptionist or an executive, you’re likely to experience a broad range of people in your daily calls. Coping methods for a bad encounter while at work varies from person to person. But even if you aren’t a natural artist, drawing is a great way to recalibrate and boost your mood.
A 2016 study conducted by Jennifer Drake, PhD, sought to examine the psychological benefits of drawing over time. “What works best for mood repair is distraction from negative emotions through drawing,” according to Drake. In other words, drawing can distract you out of a bad mood. This release of negative emotions allows you to move on from that bad mood, instead of dwelling in it all day.
Often in jobs, the stress of performing well can override the innate satisfaction of completing tasks. Doodling, while perhaps inessential to a job well done, adds joy and novelty to the work day. You can draw whatever you want! You can doodle people or trees or footballs or whatever else brings you joy! In jobs with especially rigid tasks and standards, doodling provides a contained but valuable method of self-expression.
Externalize Your Feelings
Whether you come into work with a bad mood or experience a bad call or interaction that spurs those emotions, doodling can be a great release for those pent-up feelings. Even if it’s just scribbling spirals on a piece of scrap paper, physically expressing your internal state can effectively reset your mood.
Similarly, doodling can help unlock puzzles by making a mental problem material. While there aren’t many definitive answers about why doodling aids memory and problem-solving, evidence supports the theory that it can help us fill in the gaps in the stories we tell ourselves. On the Harvard Health Blog, writer Srini Pillay, MD writes that doodling “will likely activate your brain’s “unfocus” circuits, give your “focus” circuits a break, and allow you to more creatively and tirelessly solve a problem at hand.”
There’s no one right way to solve problems. Often, solutions come not from thinking outside the box, and examining challenges in many different lights. So if you normally brainstorm solutions by making a list, stretch your brain by drawing your ideas. You might be surprised by what answers emerge on the page.