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The New Wisdom of Doodling

Doodling Helps with Focus and Information Retention

By Chris Dunmire | Updated December 10, 2018

Doodled Fish and BubblesWhat do you think when you see someone doodling during a class lecture or a department meeting? Are they paying attention or mindlessly daydreaming? What if the person is you?

Do you ever wonder if doodling helps us in our learning process or if it's just a mindless diversion? You may be surprised at the answer.

In the April issue of O magazine, Melinda Wenner (2010) discusses the upsides to some common "bad" behaviors like anger, procrastination, gossip, and... well, doodling.

Wenner charts both the "old thinking" and "new wisdom" of each behavior based on new research showing how these qualities may benefit us after all. She cites Bryan Gibson, PhD, a professor of social psychology at Central Michigan University noting that "In certain situations, what is typically a detrimental trait can turn out to be a good one."

It turns out that doodling has some good traits. Here's the old thinking and new wisdom Wenner shares about doodling:

Old vs New Thinking on Doodling

Old Thinking: "Scribbling circles on a notepad while your company's chief inspiration officer drones on about synergy means you have trouble focusing."

New Wisdom: "Doodling can boost your mind's ability to notice and remember mundane information by nearly 30 percent, according to research from the University of Plymouth. The theory is that the act of drawing makes use of visuospacial processes in the brain that might otherwise be used for daydreaming, thereby preventing your mind from wandering."

Umbrella DoodleAs an avid doodler with a long history of appearing like I'm not paying attention, I can attest to this wisdom and have doodled in both the class- and conference rooms to help absorb information.

Plus, as a "visual learner", I have quietly self-illustrated concepts during course lectures and business meetings to help make the points more clear in my mind. Doodling is my version of making the content "sticky" for remembering and carving out deeper neural grooves in my brain for improved retention.

Using Doodling as a Tool for Enhanced Learning

Would you like to make use of doodling for enhanced learning or simply just for creative fun? You can right now! All you need is a drawing tool (pen, pencil, marker, Sharpie) and some paper. Or, if you prefer to doodle digitally on your device, you can any of a number of graphics programs or tools (Wacom, Windows Paint, Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator), an online whiteboard, or one of many drawing and sketching apps.

Non-linear Popcorn DoodleTo help you along in your quest for adding more doodles to your day, I've included some doodling research and Web sites below for your enjoyment and exploration, including structured and meditative types of doodling used in zen practice and prayer.

And in case you're curious, yes, the doodled images peppered on this page are all authentic specimens scanned from my own notebooks. We're never too old (or smart) to doodle! I find doodling a great stress-reliever promoting humor, light-heartedness, and well-being. See, the wisdom of these stream-of-consciousness drawings is fluid and ever-expanding...just like a doodle!


Wenner, M. (2010). Imperfect Harmony. O, The Oprah Magazine.

There is No Wrong Way to Doodle

By Jacob Lett

Drawings for a Quarter

I have been doodling all my life. In notebooks, sketchbooks, post-its, and pretty much anything else I can get my hands on. I remember when I was in first grade, I would sell drawings of cars and super heroes for 25 cents. This interest continued all the way throughout school as I took every art class as I could.

What I love about doodling is how loose and imperfect it is. As a graphic designer bound by rules of grids, spacing, and precision — a doodle is a fun escape. I can just grab a marker and draw and not worry about how realistic or how perfect my drawing is. I just draw what comes to mind.

The Most Important Rule of Any Doodler is don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't worry about rules or how something looks in real life. Work fast. See what happens. You might think you're not an artist and can't even draw a straight line. Don't let this stop you from experiencing the joy of doodling.

If you're a first time doodler, you will soon realize how much you can do already. If you feel like scribbling... scribble, if you feel like drawing a huge circle next to a small square... do it. No rules.

Shapes, Lines, and Coloring

There are some things you can do to improve the quality and speed of your doodles. Practice drawing basic shapes such as: circles, squares, triangles, cubes, and rectangles. Next think of all of the different types of lines you can draw: straight, wavy, curly, jagged, dotted, dashed, and sketchy.

Once you've explored shapes and lines. Now explore all of the ways you can color in the shapes: shaded, filled in, cross-hatch, stippled, and lines.

Still Life

Another doodle booster is drawing a still life. Look around your house for objects you can place on a table and draw. An example would be a book, pencil, coffee mug, and keys on a desk. Grab your sketchbook and draw them the best you can.

This will train your eye to see the outlines of objects. You will soon memorize the basic shapes of common objects and how they interact with each other in an environment.


Lastly, every creative endeavor requires inspiration. We need to see, read, or hear things that inspire us to doodle. On my blog, I have a doodle idea generator to help spur these types of ideas.

One great source of inspiration is to look at the work of others. See what they draw and how they draw it. Search YouTube for doodle art videos, research abstract artists such as Picasso and Matisse, look at art done by kids, and search the Internet for other doodle blogs and websites.

How Do You Doodle?

So as you can see, doodling is not just for artists or designers. It is for anyone willing to take risks and to explore their creative side. I hope doodling brings you as much joy as it brings me. Happy doodling! •

© 2011 Jacob Lett. All rights reserved.

Jacob Lett has been doodling all of his life: in notebooks, sketchbooks, post-its, and pretty much anything else he can get his hands on.

Engaging Doodling Resources

The Importance of Doodling and Creativity

A doodling lesson from Fantasy Art School.

What Does Doodling Do? Case Study

An applied cognitive psychology paper abstract by Jackie Andrade from the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, UK answering the question "Does doodling improve or hinder attention to the primary task?" based on a study with 40 participants.

The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory

Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger discussing how "Research shows that doodling helps people stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information."

Doodling at Wikipedia

"A doodle is a type of sketch, an unfocused drawing made while a person's attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes." Contents include: Etymology, Effects on memory, and Famous doodlers.

Line Forms DoodleHow to Doodle at wikiHow

A step-by-step demonstration on using doodling for improving drawing skills.

Doodle Art Alley — Explore the Magic of the Doodle!

A fun resource featuring sections on doodling basics (What to Doodle, How to Doodle), free coloring pages, doodle galleries, history, and interpretation.

Sybil MacBeth's Praying in Color

"'Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God' by Sybil MacBeth introduces the active, visual prayer practice the author calls 'praying in color.'" The site supports the ideas in the book and how to use doodling as a meditative prayer practice by illustrated examples of "praying in color" prayers and its accompanying blog.

Draw a Stickman

A fun, 5-minute creative doodle diversion. Draw a stickman and then watch it come to life!

10 Apps For Creating Epic Doodles

Tori Lewis rates smartphone drawing apps Paper,, Bamboo Paper, Sketchbook Express, ASKetch, Draw, and others that can be used for virutal doodle making.

Zentangle — Anything is Possible...One Stroke at a Time

"Zentangle is an easy to learn method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. It is a fascinating new art form that is fun and relaxing. It increases focus and creativity." Site offers enlightening "Theory of Zentangle", instructional articles, newsletter archives, and a wealth of doodle example images to inspire your own doodles.

More Doodling Features

Journal Bliss: Doodling

Who doesn't love to doodle? When you doodle absentmindedly, you relinquish control of your left brain and allow your right brain to take over.

There is No Wrong Way to Doodle

Doodling is not just for artists or designers. It is for anyone willing to take risks and to explore their creative side.

The Image-Forming Power of the Mind

The inspiring success story behind Michael Harman's Colour Buddy™ creative doodle poster puzzles (Includes free printable doodle download.)