I was Bored

imageThroughout my entire life, I have been a doodler. I have doodled on almost every piece of paper I’ve ever been given. If I have paper, a writing instrument and 30 seconds of boredom, I will draw something. I think this is why my wife never let me take a pen to church, she was afraid of what that envelope would have looked like by the time it made it to the basket.

Recently, CBS News did a story on the Higher Purpose of Doodling. I emailed that link to my wife and daughter to give credibility to my habit. My mother doesn’t have access to email, but I might print a copy for the next time I see her. She had to endure countless report cards with comments about “daydreaming” “mind wandering” and a general inability to pay attention. My response, under my breath or silent was along the lines of:

“Maybe, if the subject had been a little bit more interesting, I would have paid more attention. I’m sorry – I before E except after C or when sounding like A as in neighbor or weigh – just doesn’t do it for me.”

While the teacher was up there saying that, I was thinking “what about their?” and then I would start writing “there, they’re and their” and then I would start connecting the words with lines.

Inevitably, I would add more lines. My favorite doodling techniques have always included connecting or dividing. Sooner or later, the lines would begin to resemble shapes, objects, people, animals or some futuristic bit of technology. As soon as that happened, I would expand on that shape. You can see a hypothetical progression in the doodles below. The point is, I almost always started with notes – I was paying attention, I was taking notes!doodleComposite

I remember asking my teacher about the whole “their” thing and her answer was “that’s an exception!” Well then, it’s also a snowmobile. Snowmobiles were still pretty futuristic when I was trying to understand basic vocabulary and grammar so it might have been something I would have drawn. These aren’t the actual doodles from grade school, I recreated these doodles in an app called Jot, on my iPad using a stylus my wife and daughter bought me for Christmas. I’m sure they’re shaking their heads right now saying “he told us that was for work.” That’s why I included the picture at the top; that is work! Besides, my wife can’t complain, she met me at work and I doodled.

When I worked for Peat Marwick, Mitchell & Co, we had to keep work papers. Work papers were taken on work paper pads and the pages were then kept imagein work paper binders. I was a consultant, but PMM&Co was an auditing firm and those folks were seriously anal about writing stuff down. I think they are less anal today as a result of all the work papers the guys at Arthur Anderson had to shred prior to going out of business after the Enron deal, but I digress. When I was taking notes on work paper pads, I was also doodling. One day, my boss called me into his office. He was reviewing my work papers for a recently completed engagement, (he had to review them before they were filed. Did I mention that they were anal?) Anyway, he had a few questions about the figure shown at the right. That was one of my favorite things to draw. Sometimes I would just draw the basic shape, sometimes I would add the eye but I only added the teeth and the tongue when I was really bored. My boss asked:

“What would you do, if these work papers were subpoenaed and you were asked by the opposition’s attorney to explain what you were thinking when you drew this?”

He was a master at concocting hypothetical situations that took place in a courtroom. I think he watched too much television. I was deposed precisely one time during 6 years of consulting and the opposing attorney never once looked at my work papers.

In any case, the explanation was simple. I was talking with our client representative and he took a phone call. One of those: “sorry, I have to take this” moments where you’re left awkwardly wondering if you should stay in the room or not. So, I stayed in the room and pretended to be busy so he wouldn’t think I was eavesdropping.

After the CBS story, a blogger friend of mine wrote a nice articleimage about her planned attempt to restart her doodling. Beth writes some inspirational stuff on her blog but this is one time I don’t need to be inspired. Unlike her, I never stopped doodling. Most of my doodles end up in the trash can after the notes around them have outlived their usefulness. Some (like the uppermost image) are saved for their “business value” and some, like the creature above, reappear from time to time based on my mood in a meeting or on a conference call. The doodle to the right lives on for its intrinsic identity value. That’s “Little Guy” and he was my Twitter icon until I got brave enough to use a picture. Also, I think he pops up on my daughter’s phone when I am calling. Little guy was extracted from a much larger doodle when I became impressed with how closely he resembles me.


  1. Picture – This isn’t so much a flow chart in the traditional computer programming sense. It is my way of note-taking during a discussion. I drew this while meeting with my development team, and then I went back and designed the process.


  2. Hey Dan, thanks for the shout out. And thanks for the idea to doodle when stuck in a potentially awkward moment while someone takes a call. I like that – better than twitching while looking out the window (if one is near).


  3. I’ve never been one to have any artistic leaning. I consider doodling very artistic. The only way I can relate to your story, and you may laugh but that’s fine, lol, is in 10th grade English class. I had a composition book, you know the black and white bound book? My goal by the end of the first quarter was to fill in all of the little white sections with the black pen. I succeeded! So sad.


    • It’s not sad. What’s sad is the fact that the class had points where that was the best use of your time. I’m glad you finished it. Thanks for reading & for the comment.


  4. We have far too much in common Dan (except when it comes to sports teams). I’ve been a doodler ever since I could hold a pencil. Still prefer doodling with pen and paper versus stylus and tablet . . . it just isn’t the same. I once had a teacher flunk me on an 8th grade English test because I doodled all over the sheet of paper. The fact that I answered EVERY question correctly meant nothing to Mrs. Morrissey, who just happened to be Amelia Earhart’s sister. True story!


  5. Wow, Bob. That’s amazing and I have no doubt but that it’s true. But, having one more thing in common with you is a little disconcerting ;) No, seriously, I don’t mind that, you’re a pretty good role model. As for sports teams, we are both avid supporters of our home team. Regarding the stylus/iPad, you’re right, pen and paper is way better. It was pretty cool to be able to recreate those and include them in the blog so easily though. I filled in for our secretary on the AIIM NE board call today and I will be handing her some curious minutes in a bit. Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to comment.


  6. Excellent read Dan.

    ‘My favorite doodling techniques have always included connecting or dividing.’ – You know your favorite style of doodling…. well….

    I use this technique to record and plan the learning of children I worked with when I was Directing a Child Care centre. It’s entirely flexible and basically links the associations that children make as they are learning. It also was a fantastic tool to PLAN future activities and learning opportunities based on real experiences and understanding.

    I love this so much, I do it with my own family at home – particularly when we we go on holidays and are trying to record the experiences.

    I personally call it mapping. It is regularly used within early childcare (at least in the centres I have been blessed to work at) and it really is a fantastic way to summarise and reference individual learning stories of children (and adults) as they experience their personal growth, learning and development.


    • Thank you. It’s comforting to realize that there are so many “doodlers” out there. I’m curious to know more about the way you use that technique, maybe a future post on your blog (which I really enjoy reading). Thanks again!


  7. I don’t doodle, but I’ve got a boss who loves to. Every meeting yields a new sheet filled with these crazy geometrical designs. Good post, Dan!


  8. What a great post! This is my first visit to your blog, but it’s not going to be my last! I’m a compulsive doodler myself, Dan. My school notebooks were full of doodles — both basic pencil, and then one particular English class, I got really creative and did fruit borders in coloured markers on every page I had. Stars and flowers were always my go-to doodles though. And treble clefs for some reason. And the occasionally mini pin-up girl. I am a bonafide full time artist now, so there’s a “legitimate” reason for all the doodles on everything I own. But between you and me, they don’t really serve a purpose. I still just like to doodle!


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