Art of Noticing No. 11: Lots of Nothing; Joyspotting; the Walking podcast; etc.

Hello again,
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday (coming in May, but available for preorder: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Knopf) offers exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed. The book is finished, but I keep coming across new and relevant ideas — either for prompts you can try, or interesting or inspirational projects or writing you can check out. That's what this newsletter is for. 1. A big week for nothing! New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose wrote a widely read piece about trying to deal with his smartphone addictions. “I needed to practice doing nothing,” he writes:

During my morning walk to the office, I looked up at the buildings around me, spotting architectural details I’d never noticed before. On the subway, I kept my phone in my pocket and people-watched — noticing the nattily dressed man in the yellow hat, the teens eating hot Takis and laughing, the kid with Velcro shoes. When a friend ran late for our lunch, I sat still and stared out the window instead of checking Twitter.

Not to be outdone, the Times’ “Sketch Guy” columnist Carl Richards promptly declared that “People wear ‘busy’ like a badge of honor. It almost feels like a cult.” Knock that off and “try doing nothing for a while,” he argued. “Large chunks of unstructured time,” as he puts it, are good for us.

Take the “busy” badge, throw it in the trash and replace it with one that says “rested.” And after you do, don’t go post about it on Twitter. Step outside, lie down in the grass and look at the clouds. And don’t get up until you’re good and ready.

Nothing is a trend! Spend ten minutes tomorrow doing the most nothing you can. Just engage your senses: what do you see, hear, smell? Consider how this feels. Consider making it a habit.

2. Joyspotting. If "doing nothing" is too vague, there's this: My friend Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of the recent book Joyful, recommends "joyspotting, or intentionally looking for joy in your surroundings." She writes on her always-interesting blog:

It’s a great practice for your commute or in between errands. Instead of burying my nose in my phone on my way to a meeting or to the airport, I try to gaze out the window and see what I notice.

3. Well Noticed!: Best and Worst Transit Seat Patterns from Around the World. CityLab asked for reader opinions and a "deluge of replies rolled in, many of which expressed affection for patterns that would make a minimalist shudder." Check out the surprisingly diverse results here.

4. Icebreaker of the Week: "I share your enthusiasm for icebreaker questions and wanted to pass on one I came up with that I've found to work well," a reader tells me:

Ask everyone if they would rather be able to speak every language in the world fluently, or be able to play every musical instrument as well a virtuoso.

"What makes it great is trying to get people to explain why they would prefer one over the other. .... Their explanations reveal a lot about their personalities." Nice!
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether made it up or got it elsewhere) to
5. Random Endorsement: Jon Mooallem’s Walking Podcast is my new jam. It’s just him taking a walk, in nature, for like an hour. He barely talks, apart from (amusingly) reading a message from a sponsor partway into the walk. Other than that, it’s pretty much just his footsteps and ambient noise. But I still pause it when I leave the room, so I don't miss anything! More here.

6. A Personal Note: New Human Resource column, on dealing with jerks at work, here.

Okay, that's it! As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals (and your icebreakers). Reply to this email or use

Thanks for reading!


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