As I sit on the tram heading into central Melbourne, I lift my head from my phone and look around me. Sure enough, everyone else is staring at their phone as well. It's what we do in 2017. Hard to believe that just 10 years ago we didn't have these things to stare at isn't it? What did we do with ourselves in the pre-iPhone era?
Our phones give us 'something to do' from the moment we wake until the moment we turn out the light – and even beyond that. We can fill every spare minute of our day, whether waiting in line, waiting for a coffee or waiting for a partner outside the change room. Even walking the dog has become time to be filled by checking email, social media and news updates.
Does this matter? Isn't it just the modern way?
Well, yes, it does, according to psychologists. Especially if you're trying to do something creative such as write a book.
I've written before about how turning off our devices can improve our ability to focus. But that's just the start of it. It turns out that if we want the ability to be creative when we are focused, we also need to give our mind a chance to wander – aimlessly – on a regular basis.
An article on the 'Big Think' blog points to various research showing that creativity is hampered by ceaseless busyness, which includes the busyness smartphones allow us to create for ourselves to fill the gaps between the routine busy periods in our life and work.
Essentially, if we want to be creative, 'we need to find ways to give our brains a break', according to Stanford's Emma Seppälä. This can mean doing something as radical as regularly going for a walk without your phone to playing with the dog to taking up a new hobby. Basically doing anything that isn't work and doesn't involve staring at a screen.
The point here is not to find more time in your day to write that book, though certainly less screen time will help with that. No, the point is to free up your mind and give it the space it needs to be creative. It's about escaping the constant noise in which we can so easily envelope ourselves without even noticing.
Who knows? You might even have a great idea for your book while your mind is wandering free. Just make sure you have a pen and paper on hand so you can capture it!