doodling focus

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bad habit of drawing during classes and meetings. All the way back into elementary school, I’d draw pictures instead of taking notes and had many teachers and bosses lecture me on how it appears disrespectful. Sure, that makes sense, it seems like I’m more interested in my drawing than the topic at hand or learning what I’m supposed to be. That isn’t it, though, in reality, my doodling helps me pay more attention and listen more in depth, allowing constructive and creative responses. Various studies have been done which prove that drawing, doodling, and even something as subtle as fidgeting can boost our creativity and focus.

One example of such a study was conducted by Jackie Andrade, a psychologist of Plymouth is southern England. The set up for this experiment was interesting, as the people who the experiment was conducted with were, first, under the impression that their role was complete and were ready to go home. Second, they were specifically told that they would listen to a 2.5 minute ‘boring’ recording which they would then be tested on. The tape is one which is actually considered by Guantanamo Officials to be considered non-lethal torture when listened to at lengths. The recording is specifically designed to cover various topics and allow for memory testing in various fields, including personnel, location, and events. During this recording, various statements are made, including specific guest listings, a person’s sick cat, and someone’s new house location. Half of the people who were asked to listen to the study were told to fill in squares on a piece of paper; they weren’t specifically asked to doodle, as that would create a subconscious distraction regarding “what exactly is a doodle”. The result of this study was, as can be assumed by many of my readers, that the persons who doodled remembered over 80% more of the detailed information than those who were set to just focus on the boring recounting of various attendants, locations, and occurrences.

This skill can be highly beneficial, especially for people like me who have a tendency of thinking about an erroneous variety of different circumstances and potential outcomes during any situation. Often I have the issue of considering unrelated topics such as “what will I have for dinner” or “how did so-and-so feel about my response to this particular situation”. When I’m in a meeting which I have to pay attention to the details within, it’s important for me to begin doodling, otherwise I can all but guarantee I will miss something relevant. I don’t take extremely accurate and careful notes, except for basic things which are jotted down in corners of the drawing, but doodling always results in me remembering the important aspects of the meeting. For instance, during a meeting about a year and a half ago, I remember that the taktzeit (cycle time) for a particular confidential application was 32 seconds per assembly completion. Had I not been doodling, I wouldn’t have even remembered that number for an hour, let alone a year and a half. So, obviously, for “scatter-brained” individuals such as myself, doodling is an extremely effective tool for occupying the part of my mind which considers unrelated tasks with something mindless.

I had always felt bad about my doodling habit until my tenth-grade year in grade school. One of my teachers, the scientific construction and physics instructor, explained the concept to us in passing. He mentioned that through his entire life, most of which was prior to the aforementioned study, he had a tendency of doodling complex things during meetings and schooling. In fact, he made a specific point that the more detail he put into a doodle, the more he remembered about the lecture. He never took notes or jotted down correlations between concepts, but always ended up with perfect scores in exams which were based on memory. This particular instructor was capable of remembering minute details of discussions held in his presence as long as he was doodling, and specifically invited us, as a class, to ascertain whether our learning type was associative and complimentary with the part of our mind which was occupied by doodling. I still regard this particular teacher as one of the most intelligent people I’ve met in my entire life and have had the liberty and honor of telling him as much.

So, if you are like me and find yourself distracted by mundane aspects such as the menu for the night’s dinner, maybe you should try doodling. I don’t suggest you work toward becoming an artist, although you will indefinitely and irrefutably become better at drawing, but just to doodle mindlessly during discussions and meetings. For me, it’s been so long since I haven’t that I can’t imagine how little information I would pay attention to and retain without drawing. It’s actually grown to the point that I can look at particular lines or sections of a drawing and recall precisely what was being discussed between who, in what context, and where they were sitting when I drew that particular portion of my doodle. Really, in essence, it is a lot like taking notes, but on a much higher level; the words and scribbled notes show are just that: words. The lines which we draw and the shading which we implement on our doodles pertain to a fundamental concept as well as specific detail. No matter what type of learning you are best at, or how well you’re able to pay attention and take accurate notes, doodling during meetings is an extremely useful tool. Often information is required on an immediate basis, and consulting written documentation is cumbersome; in these frequent cases, immediate recollection is important, and can help to expedite your growth in your career.

art by M.C. Escher

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Nick Harding

Nick Harding

I'm an automation engineer who started out with just a drafting degree, but didn't want to stop learning. Ideally every day I find someone who needs help and do whatever I can to make their day. I enjoy expressing myself, whether it's through writing, story telling, singing or playing guitar; I love to teach others, as well as myself. My strongest drive is the interest in learning everything I can know, and speculating on topics that I can't. I know many people will react with the question, "an engineer with an open mind!?" Yes, I find it hard to disbelieve the things which we can see - since I am able to see energy, I am able to consider other potentials which are also deemed "non-scientific".