How to be more productive while I turn my brain off?
May 26, 2010 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I want to be more productive while I turn my brain off. I seem to get good thinking done if I can occupy my hands and a very small part of my brain on a task, while the rest of my brain is free to wander. Right now I do this with mindless iPhone games, but I get headaches and this is not good for me and I want to do something useful if I can.

My mum, and women of her generation seemed to do this while ironing, or doing dishes by hand, but those options don't appeal to me.

I think that knitting might work, but I'm looking for other suggestions that I can do right away and not have to learn.

I got some suggestions from this post but it's not quite the same problem.

Thanks for your help and suggestions!
posted by heybearica to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I was about to suggest knitting, as you can make things to sell, or donate, as needed.

The other one that seems common in my social circle (a bunch of gamers) is making Chain Mail - not just armor, but bracelets, belts, etc. for jewelry.

I think there's going to be a learning curve for anything productive, but not necessarily a steep one if you choose well.
posted by GJSchaller at 4:37 PM on May 26, 2010

Washing your car.
Making friendship bracelets.
Sorting and rolling coins.
Gardening, particularly weeding.

For me, rolling out pasta is especially good for occupying me just enough to not be bored, but not enough to hinder wandering thoughts.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:40 PM on May 26, 2010

I've been known to sit down with a colouring book and some crayons when wanting something like this. Particularly books with clear outlines and large areas, cartoons work quite well (bananas in pajamas are my favourite), then you have something to do with your hands and eyes and some amount of brain but it's easy and not too absorbing. Drawing in general is also good but I find it takes a lot more thought to make something from scratch (I'm not a terribly great artist). Paint by numbers also works since it's basically just slightly more complicated colouring in anyway. Nice crayons help, I particularly like oil pastels, but pencils or pens work too.

I realise this may be too childish or silly although I've come to terms with that!
posted by shelleycat at 4:42 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Aw, you can learn knitting in ten minutes with some good basic instructions.

Personally, I find beading to be perfect for the busy hands/empty mind scenario with two added benefits.
1. I can make nice things for myself and friends fairly quickly.
2. I get a buzz from the colour therapy involved in playing with bright colourful things and choosing which goes with which.
posted by Kerasia at 4:43 PM on May 26, 2010

Although ironing and doing dishes don't appeal to you, what about other household tasks? Dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, making the bed and taking out the trash are all things that you don't really have to concentrate on while doing them, and you pretty much have to do them anyway, unless you have hired help or a neat-freak S.O.

What about painting? If you have a good spot for it that you could cover with a tarp so you don't have to worry about making messes, starting with acrylic paint on canvas board is a fairly no-brainer way to paint. You can paint over your previous work until you end up with something you like. If you feel the need to actually learn how to paint properly, there's all sorts of resources and techniques for you to delve into. Just stick to abstracts, working with color and texture an composition, if you're no good at representational art.

If you're already marginally skilled in the kitchen, you could do this with cooking. Plan something large and easy to cook but involving a lot of ingredients and steps. This could be some kind of complex stew, or a giant pot of onion soup or chili, or ratatouille, and you could work away at chopping things and setting up all your ingredients and hovering over boiling pots while your brain does a lot of thinking. Of course, if you're no good at handling a knife, this is likely a dangerous idea.
posted by Mizu at 4:50 PM on May 26, 2010

I asked a similar question. May be worth a look...
posted by verevi at 4:58 PM on May 26, 2010

Wash windows or mirrors. Sweep. Mop.

Get a skipping rope.

Fold laundry.

Brush the cats until they stop shedding or your arm collapses.

Reorganize the kitchen, your closet, etc. Sort your books.
posted by heatherann at 5:01 PM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: Knitting or crocheting come to mind - you can learn simple stitches in a few minutes. You can also mend clothing - darning socks (although largely useless in these days of $1 socks) is very relaxing. You could also whittle a bit of wood or soap. But really, crocheting or knitting really fits the bill of mindless, but productive hand tasks.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:06 PM on May 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far - keep them coming!

heatherann - I love to fold laundry, but I run out. Sometimes I take out all the towels in the closet and start again.

verevi - your question has great answers too! my husband was right when he told me that I am incompetent at searching
posted by heybearica at 5:09 PM on May 26, 2010

You need a monkeywork jar. (Monkeywork being some mindless task that needs doing and can be accomplished in a single session.) Every time you see some small task that needs doing, write it down and put the slip in the jar. Take a slip out when you have the need for monkeywork.

My (mostly mental) slips say things like:
Clean the egg tray
Scrub vegetable drawer
Clean guest mirror
Do mending

posted by MonkeyToes at 5:16 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Photo retouching does this for me.
posted by xo at 5:33 PM on May 26, 2010

This isn't a good analog to the other answers, but going for a run (or, presumably, a walk) really does this for me--to the extent that I notice the mental effects of skipping a few days moreso than the physical.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:42 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drawing is a good way to keep your hands occupied, although it may not be highly productive (unless you're some kind of art genius), it is fun though - it'll come easier if you don't try to make your drawing precise or accurate or even of anything at all.

Another thing you could try that I like is whittling. Get a sharp knife and a block of wood and start carving away, again not too productive but if you get good at it then you can give them away as gifts.

Gardening is great for it too plus you get the added benefit of fresh air and a bit of exercise.

Exercise can be good for getting the brain going too, just go for a long walk or run or head to a gym if you want, but i like the fresh air of being outside.
posted by parryb at 5:49 PM on May 26, 2010

You should maybe consider getting a sewing machine. It's very easy to learn how to stitch most basic home items (pillows, curtain, blanket, duvets, etc). Clothing is a bit harder, but definitely will come.

If you know someone that sews, it will take them all of 10-15 minutes to show you what you're doing. Then, slowly over time, you will get really good at it. I just went through an incredibly stressful two months at work. All I kept thinking to myself was "I can't wait to have time to sew!" I finally did this weekend. Took two hours to go pick out pretty fabric and sew a new cover for my dog's bed. Now every time I walk past it I'm proud of myself.
posted by sickinthehead at 5:55 PM on May 26, 2010

I strongly suggest crocheting. It's really easy to learn, there are a ton of resources, and you can make super cool things only knowing a couple of simple motions with your hands. One of my first projects was a giant tetris blanket - since crocheted blankets are made from simple squares, it's an ideal craft for geeky pixelated things. For me, at least, knitting is harder because it's more difficult to see the knots you're making and you have more stuff to manipulate. Other handiwork stuff is fun and does the trick for me, too - quilting, sewing in general, beading (brick stitch is repetitive and makes super cool stuff) and I can feel productive while unwinding and letting my mind do its own thing.
posted by lriG rorriM at 6:15 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cross stitching doesn't take any particular talent; you can pick it up in 15 minutes from written instructions. Pick something with looooooong straight lines or big blocks of color so you can just focus on the stitching.

(I can turn my brain off while reading a complicated chart, but that took me some years of practice.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:44 PM on May 26, 2010

window washing or dusting, yeah - especially trinkets or figurines that you have to sit and mess with. Maybe detailing your car? Walking laps would do it for me, too, so I could walk and not have to pay more than nominal attention to my surroundings, play instrumental music on the ipod and let my brain go.

Hand sewing, maybe. Quilting - a simple log cabin quilt is just tons, and tons, and tons of straight seams.
posted by lemniskate at 6:59 PM on May 26, 2010

Argh, sorry, I meant rail fence pattern, not log cabin.
posted by lemniskate at 7:00 PM on May 26, 2010

Response by poster: On further reflection, I'm looking for things that can be done on my couch or in my kitchen with very little supplies required. I have two very small children, two cats and a dog who all get into stuff. I do cross stitch already but have to keep it out of the way so its not really accessible for shorter burst. Also I think sewing and quilting are out for a similar reason. I think that I will try to learn crocheting and knitting, but any other suggestions for between now and when I'm good enough for those to be mindless?
posted by heybearica at 7:24 PM on May 26, 2010

Best answer: I second the comment above about coloring - and it's likely you've got the supplies on hand. Get a really nice coloring book - something like this or this. Sorting coins is also an excellent idea. Building things with legos works for me, and I know someone who swears by origami.
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:34 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the knittting. Very portable, and it's exactly what I do when I'm sitting on the couch watching TV and trying to relax for the day. I knit and crochet, but I find knitting more relaxing. You might want to look into the Knifty Knitter. It's loom knitting and very, very easy to get started. My seven year old uses one.

Nthing the coloring. Search "Grown-Up coloring pages", print out a few, get a set of colored pencils and a cheap clip board and you're set.

Beading is fun too, but I have to do that at the table so that I don't lose beads in the couch, so YMMV. I've also had fun doing jigsaw puzzles, but you'd have to get one of those roll up mats to keep it away from the kids. And again, that's more of a table activity.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:09 PM on May 26, 2010

One more thing: When you find your activity, get a nice basket to put everything in. When you're working you can put the basket right next to you on the couch, and then when you're done you can put the basket up out of the way. I do this a lot, especially with my yarn, so that the kids and the dog can't get into it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:12 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's a bigger project, but I've had some absolutely genius ideas (and some dangerous ones) while painting a the house. There's something about painting that opens up your brain.
posted by zinfandel at 9:10 PM on May 26, 2010

Rubik's Cube. Origami. Knot tying. Calligraphy.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:37 PM on May 26, 2010

Similarly to TooFewShoes' suggestion, my fiancee keeps her current knitting project all in a bag, like one of those canvas ones you can use for groceries, that just sits by the couch, or goes into her luggage on trips. She seems to have no trouble taking it in and out to continue the work. She typically does it watching TV, but certainly you could do it while your brain watches itself.

Also, find a knitting store near you. Not necessarily for supplies, but because you're bound to drop a stitch, or be stymied by some technique or instruction, in which case there will certainly a couple helpful persons there (not least of which the shop owner) willing to help you figure it out, whether you're buying something there or not.
posted by theDTs at 9:42 PM on May 26, 2010

Also recommending cooking. Especially dicing vegetables. I don't know if you like to cook at all but it can be very soothing. Dicing a bunch of carrots and celery for marinara sauce while listening to This American Life (or any other podcast) is extremely comforting.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 9:58 PM on May 26, 2010

Ugh, everyone is so productive!

How about journaling, yoga or other forms of meditation.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:31 AM on May 27, 2010

I do jigsaw puzzles when I need to turn my brain off.
posted by Maarika at 12:09 PM on May 28, 2010

Response by poster: Hey everyone, I am currently knitting a scarf and it seems to be working out well. You all were right, it was really fast to learn!

lriG rorriM - I've put those colouring books on my birthday wish list.

Thanks again!
posted by heybearica at 7:53 PM on June 28, 2010

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