Solitairing – my aid to concentrate

I have a digital confession to make. It something that – until now – only my husband knows about me. Here it is: the most used app on my iPad is – Solitaire. This advanced and beautiful piece of technology in my hands – I (ab-)use it to play the game that even I think of as being played only by bored (and boring) secretaries.


Solitaire WinYes, yes. There is also frequent exchange of vocabulary with my colleague in Ohio on “Words with Friends” and a back and forth of stick people with co-workers in Germany or Shanghai through “Draw Something”. Yes, I have played all levels of Angry Birds. I have Saved Toshi. But the one game I always come back to is Solitaire.

This is not due to sweet childhood memories of my dad teaching me card games at our dining table (which happened, but is not the reason for all these Solitaire hours). I am not playing it for its game mechanics or for fun. It is not a tool of distraction for me. On the contrary. Solitaire, it turns out, helps me concentrate and focus while I am paying attention to something (or somebody) else. For example: When the radio turns itself on at 6:30 in the morning I wake up and my mind immediately wanders off. When is my first Skype call? Did I send that email last night? Is it my turn making coffee?

The news is running in the background, I am not paying it any attention. But then, with my first cup of coffee, I start playing Solitaire. And I begin to listen, actively filing away the information I am hearing. (My colleagues and clients reading this may wonder if that is what I am doing during conference calls. Yes, it is. Not always, but quite frequently.)

I can see that it would be easy to judge me as inconsiderate and scold me for not paying attention. But if you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch Sunni Brown’s TED talk about “unlocking your brain” through doodling:

I saw her at SXSW in 2011 and I have watched mediaman designers doodle during meetings. With much envy and awe, because I cannot draw (which you know if you have ever played “Draw Something” with me). And while Sunni Brown and her colleagues suggest in their book “Gamestorming” (which I also highly recommend), that everyone can learn to draw, I don’t have the patience.

But, doodling and playing Solitaire are completely different things, right? Maybe not. In a Time Magazine article from 2009 called “Study: Doodling Helps You Pay Attention” it says:

Doodling, …, requires very few executive resources but just enough cognitive effort to keep you from daydreaming, which — if unchecked — will jump-start activity in cortical networks that will keep you from remembering what’s going on. Doodling forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stop it from daydreaming but not so much that you don’t pay attention.

And that is exactly what solitairing does for me. It keeps me in check. And I don’t even have to draw.

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