The Upside Of Downtime by Sandi Mann (book review).

If the title ‘The Upside Of Downtime’ sounds a bit odd, the sub-title of Dr. Sandi Mann’s book ‘Why Boredom Is Good’ explains why you need to keep your mind active or boredom will find something else to fill your time with. Although, for many people, this doesn’t happen neither, you just over do it. She also points out that we have a low threshold for boredom giving a couple examples of her own in the introduction. However, the main point of this book is to beat boredom or at least to understand what to do about it. As most of us are multifunctional on the Net, it’s hardly surprising if any of you are listless or want to get back on-line to continue such activity against the mundane of real life. Something that didn’t dawn on me until reading this book is that one of the reasons why I might fall asleep watching a film – when I review them, I feel I need my full concentration on them – is that I’m simply not doing enough and that I’m going to have to experiment with writing something else at the same time.


I’m less sure about boredom at work. When I did lab work, I always tended to work out ways to improve my own efficiency and it gave me a lot of thinking time for my own projects. I even turned one extremely boring test to my advantage by reading in the odd minutes it presented me instead of waiting twiddling my thumbs for hours on end.

Oh, for those who really want to be bored, Mann gives a selection of places and such that you might want to visit or try or avoid with a barge-pole throughout the world. I never knew until now that there are people employed to watch grass grow and paint dry and who actually enjoy it. Equally, if you’re filling in forms when you should be doing your job, like teaching or in the medical profession, then you’re not being allowed to do your job effectively or efficiently and that definitely needs an overhaul.

For the doodlers amongst you when at meetings, you’ll be glad to know that your memory retention is a lot better than those who don’t do anything but listen. Have this book to hand to show your boss if he or she catches you doing it. That just goes to show how multi-functional we are or getting, just don’t play computer games. The same applies with music. I find when I do use music, when I’m fully concentrated if I miss a track then I know I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing. I suspect where doodling is concerned, it locks an association into the brain better.

There are some scary moments when boredom is dangerous and Mann doesn’t hold back and be very wary of people who kill simply because they see it as a means of something to do. I do wonder if anyone has tested these people for psychopath or sociopath tendencies or there would be more people out there doing this. It does explain why risk-takers do perilous things in some of those dangerous ‘extreme sports’ to get a new thrill. Can boredom be so great that death seems more exciting though? Mann does point out that leaving prisoners with nothing to do is not healthy and probably explains why so many choose to take drugs to pass the time.

Going back to jobs, keeping employees continually busy does not prevent boredom. I might add to that it would be best to give them a variety of jobs but ensure they know that they have to be completed by the end of the day. If nothing else, it will improve concentration and make the better use of their time and if they finish early demonstrates this and should be rewarded. This also improves efficiency rather than having people spacing their work out to fill the entire day and then getting less done. This doesn’t mean bosses take advantage of this but this kind of efficiency deserves rewarding.

If you want novelty in your life continually, you’re going to be found wanting. Manufacturers take advantage of this if you always want the new model of anything. Then again, I think you can trace this back to schooling these days and kids are not giving time to work out what to do in their idle time rather than staged events. When I was eleven, I had a serious possibly contagious illness that left me at home for three months with no contact with anyone my own age, the first month I didn’t really know what was going on. The second two months was keeping my mind occupied and I filled my time creativity accordingly with all kinds of things so I’ve end being better equipped to fill my time as an adult. Of course, it did help to have the nascent talent in the first place and being able to develop it during that period.

For the couch potatoes amongst you, watching TV too much does slow down your thinking processes and you need to do other things, even at the same time. Reading actually is healthy in comparison which I suspect is because you’re doing more than reading the words but also visualising what they mean so don’t be a passive reader. Throughout the chapters, Mann points out that boredom is there whatever your age and occupation and you need to get away from the latest technological toy. Having to find something to do, even for kids, will stimulate their imagination and might be a good alternative and more affordable as well. It might even reduce those seeking novelty all the time because they will run out of things to keep them occupied.

Something I think Mann definitely has a point with is that there are some jobs where being autistic should be seen as a definite bonus. Such people aren’t inclined to boredom and would be effective in jobs like airport baggage screeners which do need undivided attention. Although Mann doesn’t address why such people aren’t recruited, I suspect it does goes back to an old problem of managers like to recruit people of the same educational level as themselves, forgetting that they might not see much of them on a daily basis or that they might not stay long, especially if they want career advancement. If anything, it’s more a case of picking the right types of worker and certainly an incentive payment for reliable results for particular jobs where the work is repetitive or boring.

What really got me worried is boredom at schools. Streaming for intellect really needs to come back. It worked when I was at school and gave everyone a better chance to learn at a rate they can absorb things. I can certainly see how this gives boredom a new dimension for the smart and it’s been going on for some decades now. When you combine this with only educating to pass exams, it turns into a sausage factory than proper education. View-screens was only coming into practice when I left school but I remember one of my teachers saying it saved him repeatedly rewriting things on a blackboard. To see it move on to handing out notes neglects the fact that pupils of any ages will absorb more if they have to put things into their own words and show the teacher they have a grasp of the subject.

It is good to know that British schools still have a place for paper books than e-books. Physicality gives an appreciation for knowledge. Mann also hits on the fact that university lecturers aren’t trained to be teachers although that is slowly changing.

When Mann moves back to the workplace, somewhere most of you have some experience, I suspect most of you are going to agree with her. Regular staff meetings especially don’t seem to be an effective usage of time when I was at work because they were taking up time when work could have been done but had been compulsory added to the list. From a time management pov, I always felt it would make more sense to just put something on a notice board for when there was time to read something at leisure unless it was really important and even word of mouth would spread it faster.

As you should be able to tell from my reaction to this book that I learnt a lot about my own life, a lot of it indicating that I was doing the right things. I suspect this book should be on your reading list if you find life boring or need to work out how to beat it. From what Sandi Mann says, that might be most of you. Have some boring times in your life can be beneficial, more so if you’re doing too much and need to give your brain a chance to catch up or rest. Most important of all, this book isn’t a boring read and one of the most useful I’ve read this year.

GF Willmetts

April 2016

(pub: Robinson/LittleBrown. 319 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4721-3599-6)

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