21 Mindless But Productive Tasks for When Genius Takes a Hike

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could call up your genius whenever you needed it? Hey, Genius! Help me out with writing this article, please.

What would be even more amazing is if Genius would come running whenever you issued this command.

©Diana Woods, Listening to Ravens. Oil, gold leaf, found metals on wood, 72 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

But Genius runs on her own time and has a pretty smart mouth. My Genius lets me know who is boss:

  • I’m tired. Leave me alone.
  • You really should have used me when I was in better form. You know … like 6:00 a.m. That’s my power hour.
  • Are you kidding me? You spend the last four hours doing diddly-squat and now you expect me to drop everything and run to your rescue?
  • Hey, lady! I worked hard for you today. I’m entitled to stupid time.

Stupid time. That’s what I call the hours when my brain can’t make sense out of words or come up with a single creative idea.

I imagine Genius is taking a hike, sweating it out at hot yoga, or gulping down a green smoothie. You know, because Genius is Genius. She doesn’t need naps. She only needs to refuel.

Whatever happened to Genius, I’m left alone to endure stupid time.

And then there is someone else’s time. This becomes an issue when your significant other is watching television, which is within earshot of your studio or office; the guy in the next office is talking REALLY LOUD; or your kids are running around the house. It’s someone else’s time, not your time, and all you can think about is that you want to be alone. Right. Now.

Stupid time and someone else’s time are different from downtime, which is usually required for maximum creativity. You don’t have to do anything during downtime. Vegging in front of the television, watching people at the park, or reading a trashy novel are perfectly legitimate ways to spend the downtime you’ve earned.

The most frustrating part about both stupid time and someone else’s time is that you really want to get something done and it’s just not happening. No matter how long you stare at that blank canvas or empty document, Genius doesn’t reappear. (This time she’s probably showing off her abs at CrossFit.)

Genius is stubborn. She’ll show up when you’re ready to receive her, not necessarily when you think you’re ready. [Tweet this]

Rather than getting frustrated by starting and stopping … and starting and stopping … give in to the moment and use the time as best you can.

Here are 21 mindless, but productive, things to do when you find yourself in this state. This is your go-to list when you can’t seem to tackle the high-value tasks on your to-dos.


Low brainpower is a terrific time to look up stuff on the Internet. You might:

  1. Research a trip that you’ve wanted to take. Cuba, anyone?
  2. Search for venues in a nearby metropolitan area and block out a date to visit.
  3. Look up collectors. Start with those who have things named for them at the museum.
  4. Google gallerists and curators and get up to speed on their life stories.
©Valerie Deveraux, Bristol. Red clay, 2 x 7.5 x 3 inches. Used with permission.

Organize Your Computer

My all-time favorite mindless task is cleaning up my e-life. You could:

  1. Delete or archive documents.
  2. Consolidate file folders.
  3. Remove programs you no longer use.
  4. Clean out your inbox.
  5. Spiff up your computer desktop.

Catalog Images

I killed some time on a train trip last fall cleaning up my digital photos. If you’re like me, your photos could always use a little T.L.C. Consider the following:

  1. Establish (finally) a titling convention for your images.
  2. Delete images that are duplicates or that aren’t up to par.
  3. Tag and add keywords to images.
  4. Consolidate photo files.
  5. Add credit lines and meta data to images.

Send Some Love On Social Media

You might be stealing time away from Genius by working on these mindless tasks. Let’s face it – you don’t have to summon Einstein to do this kind of work. Save these things for low-energy moments:

  1. Hop on Instagram and like a few photos.
  2. Leave a few intelligent comments on Facebook posts from people you want to stay connected with.
  3. Respond to a handful of tweets on Twitter.
  4. Reply to comments on your Pinterest boards.
©Judy Miller, Mendocino Mist. Pastel on paper, 16 x 20 inches. Used with permission.

Declutter Paper

Oh, boy, this is going to feel great. Finally! You’re going to get rid of all this weight:

  1. Go through paper files and fill up your recycling bin.
  2. Ditto for any magazine or newspaper piles.
  3. File receipts and other financial info.

Your Turn

I hope that you honor Genius’s powers by using your time with her for your highest value tasks. The mindless stuff can wait until Genius takes a hike, and you’ll still be productive.

What will you do first when she steps away?

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44 thoughts on “21 Mindless But Productive Tasks for When Genius Takes a Hike”

  1. Alyson,

    I love this list. I’m going to print it out and keep it at my desk for times I need to do something productive while my genius is off getting refreshed!

  2. I love this list – useful thing that should be done, but which we never can find the time to do because we are too busy beating ourselves up for not being ‘productive’.
    Alyson, I love how you give permission to do these things that always seem like they are taking away from our ‘real’ work, but in reality are just as important.
    Thank you!
    Oh, and I go to yoga and mediatate to get out of a funk and stay sane 🙂

  3. Hah, this is exactly what I do (and I’ve written about it as well), but I haven’t heard the term “stupid time” before. And unfortunately, some days are just “blah” and I can’t seem to be able to do any focused work.
    Not only that, it would be wasteful to do these mindless tasks on days when we have more than enough creative energy to make art.

    Productivity is about doing the right things at the right time and using our energy and attention wisely.

    1. Nela: “Stupid Time” is what I call it. It’s probably not the nicest way to put it, but I really say to my husband, “Gotta go to bed because I’m getting stupid.”

  4. Well, my genius must be getting ready to do something AMAZING — I’ve decluttered like crazy for two moves over the last year… my moving sale forced me to organize my computer to find older art images to put online so I could sell them in the sale… I’ve done quite a bit of research on my new art home… still in a creative funk but I just organized space in the basement for a new studio this morning so GENIUS I AM READY FOR YOU TO COME BACK. Please.

    1. Michelle: I think you need to say “I’m going to work in the studio for 30 minutes a day” and see where that takes you. Just “be” with your art in some way.

  5. I’ve been known to reorganize, dust, and vacuum the studio. I know that’s a radicle concept but at least I am in my studio. Sometimes I get half way finished and have a painting insight. Then I can get back to painting again. I just keep bumping into the vacuum cleaner! Who put it there?

  6. Great suggestions Alyson! I also use those low-inspiration times to:
    – clean my studio
    – gesso new panels or paint the edges of finished pieces
    – pull out previous sketchbooks and see what pops out at me
    – go online to see what my favourite galleries and artists have been doing recently
    For me, this ‘low’ often happens if I’ve been away from the studio for a bit. But even after a longer hiatus, I trust that if I spend a couple of hours each day in the studio, by the second or third day creative energy is flowing freely again.

  7. Clean my studio. Make panels or stretch canvasses. Work on another module of Art Biz Bootcamp. Photograph work. And my favorite- wander the beach and dunes of Gulf Islands National Seashore in search of my next painting site!

  8. “when your significant other is watching television, which is within earshot of your studio or office; ” and chomping on Doritos! 🙂
    Great list!
    I’m going to organize my computer and categorize my images.

  9. Thank you, Alyson, for this helpful article – and for all of your helpful articles! Good list. Also, I can relate to Elise Nicely’s need to ‘clean up’ the studio. It’s amazing how my ‘genius’ messes up the studio while in the throws of a project! I always need to reestablish some order before starting the next one.

  10. I keep a piece of paper at my side whilst creating, and even when I’m reading trashy novels in a coffee shop, so that when an idea, thought or a task enters my head I pop it down and when I get mindless time I sit at the computer and work through them in one go.

    Sometimes it might just be hopping onto a website so it means I can get a lot of bits and bobs done in one sweep instead of doing them as and when I think of them, which would take me away from my work.

  11. Love this list- thanks Alyson! I also sometimes use this time to make original art cards for writing to collectors and other important art contacts. People love to receive them!

  12. Great list! Thanks Alyson, it makes me happy to know I’m not the only one! Would you mind if I reblogged this post on my blog tomorrow? Friday is my day for random blog posts and I think this one fits the bill perfectly! 🙂 I’m on WordPress, so it includes a link to your original post. 🙂

    1. Paula: I prefer that you change it a little. Google doesn’t really like duplicate content.

      Maybe take a section and share your thoughts on it.

      Thank you for even asking.

  13. I always have a stack of work that is “done,” but not marketable. But, there are always parts of these pieces that I like! When my inspiration to make new work is vacationing, I pull out these clunkers and cut them apart — literally. I use the pieces to make original art cards or make a smaller format piece that is frame worthy. Something comes from nothing!
    There are local fundraising events that ask for original small format art and I have donated many items this way.

    1. I have been known to cut up paintings and frame an interesting part. Next, I leave the framed work anonymously somewhere for someone to find. My framer also creates funky frames from left over trim and donates them to my give away cause.

    2. I have been thinking about doing this very thing! I painted a large painting years ago and it is damaged and uninteresting for the most part, except for a section of the top that is really good.! Thought I would cut out that section to frame and keep. Anyway, great list and great ideas!

    3. Good idea, Jan, to leave anomyous framed painting bits. I can use all this little 5×7 frames that go unused. I’ve bought littl frames at Dollar stores, too.

  14. Love this list. if I am not in the art-making zone, I will go through abandoned paintings, half finished paintings and sketches to see if anything could be rescued. This can be very cathartic because I give myself permission to trash something that is not working, and sometimes I end up finishing an old piece. Other times, I make color charts. Mindless color mixing will always get the muse back to work!

  15. Lyna Lou Nordstrom

    I love this list and it helps me see that I can do these things when I am not inspired instead of using time when I am in a creative space to fit them in!

  16. Nice list. I am seconding the cleaning, looking at abandoned work, and freshening up. I like to listen to art podcasts while doing it! Or having a look at inventory and seeing if there is anything to order. Checking out my favorite artists websites for any new work or fun interviews. Dream about the future 😉

  17. Great post and ideas Alison. I shared on google + Now I will have to think of some of the ways I refill my genius and add to your list. My husband an accountant does what he calls mindless number crunching when his mind well is done at work and home. Not my creative venue but it works for him. I let him do my number crunching too!

  18. Hey Alyson, nice suggestions, thanks!
    I also find that doing something totally unrelated could help… for example, if Genius is taking a hike, maybe it’s a good idea to join him!
    I’m lucky enough to live in an area where it’s easy to take a walk and find yourself surrounded by nature in a few minutes. So by detaching myself from “everyday stuff”, most of the times my mind will wander around and, after a bit, generate new works ideas, or even solutions to some creative problems.
    I think the principle is very similar to some of your proposals, sometimes it’s good to have some new inputs, and even not to be too focused on a subject/task, so the mind’s creative side will be able to “work its ways”!

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