Justin Gomes

FoxP2 founder, and Dentsu Create Regional ECD

Man holding a lightbulb

When the normal rules no longer apply, might we be inspired to use our time better? wonders Justin Gomes, FoxP2 founder, and Dentsu Create Regional ECD

COVID-19 has given us many things over the last four months: stress, fear, anxiety, panic- buying, a stock market crash and a shitload of toilet-roll memes.

But it’s also given us a new way to think about how we use our time.

Interestingly, only 16% of mental breakthroughs happen in the workplace. We’re constantly in alert mode, waiting for the next ping from our phones, the next iCal or urgent meeting request. And while email is great for staying on top of things, it often distracts us from getting to the bottom of things.

With our brains in constant alert mode, our adrenal glands release a steady stream of cortisol (the body’s main stress hormone), never allowing the brain to relax and tap into what neuroscientists call the Imagination Network.

A reimagined world

The Imagination Network is the part of the brain responsible for processing, planning, critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity. In a COVID-19 world, our ability to imagine other perspectives and future scenarios has never been as important.

Studies also show that while most workers think they spend time in the office being highly productive, on average, a person working an eight-hour day is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.

According to Inc. magazine, the biggest time-wasters, in order of importance, are:

  • Reading news websites: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Checking social media: 44 minutes
  • Discussing non-work-related things with co-workers: 40 minutes
  • Searching for new jobs: 26 minutes
  • Taking smoke breaks: 23 minutes
  • Making calls to partners or friends: 18 minutes
  • Making hot drinks: 17 minutes
  • Texting or instant messaging: 14 minutes
  • Eating snacks: 8 minutes
  • Making food in the office: 7 minutes

So if we manage our new-found time out of the office wisely, we have the opportunity to get more done.

And with the introduction of social distancing and an extended lockdown, how will we be spending what was previously known as ‘free time’?

Will we be overloading our nerves, increasing the chatter of our monkey brains to deafening volumes with a never-ending scroll through metres of COVID-19-saturated social media feeds? Will we be furiously downloading Netflix series before our undersea internet cable finally gives out?

Or are we designed for more?

The creative conundrum

Pablo Picasso once said, ‘All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’

And there’s some research to support his claims. In one study, 98% of the four- and five-year-olds tested showed genius levels of creativity, but by adulthood that number had dropped to just 2%, which means we literally have creativity taught out of us.

Could the time of COVID-19 be our time to break free from the deep-etched grooves of mental habit that come with age, in order to create space from our perpetual busyness and reconnect with our creativity as a species?

Reconnecting not to ‘make a dent in the universe’, like the left-footed geniuses we glorify for being out of step with the world, but simply to create something for the joy of creating it.

In the words of the American children’s book author Shel Silverstein,

‘Draw a crazy picture, 

Write a nutty poem,

Sing a mumble-gumble song,

Whistle through your comb.

Do a loony-goony dance

’Cross the kitchen floor, 

Put something silly in the world

That ain’t been there before.’

When you’re completely absorbed in a creative act, you’re ‘in flow’. Repetitive creative motions like knitting, drawing or writing help activate flow, reduce anxiety and boost your mood as your brain is flooded with dopamine – that feel-good chemical that helps motivate you.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen colleagues make pony blankets out of secret socks, create playlists (and, yes, ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ by The Police featured on every one), dust off cobweb-stringed guitars and learn how to learn again.

US writer and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr declared: ‘Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.’

You have been given the gift of time. What will you do with it?