The Magic of Unexpected Time

Spending hours in a medical clinic as a way to spark creativity?

Posted Feb 22, 2013

Looking for ways to boost your creativity?  Plan a long trip and hope for problems. 

I’m on my way to Seoul, Korea from my home in Boise, Idaho, for a “long weekend." Yes, crazy but we’re going to visit someone who’s only got so much time these days. 

The bad news?  Travel time takes about 24 hours. 

The good news?  Travel time takes about 24 hours.

Like most of us, I get swamped with the urgent and don’t always get to be as creative or focus on the important topics in my life and mind.  So I’m going to build “unexpected time” into my expected travel time. 

I discovered “unexpected time” when I was forced to sit for three hours at the Family Medical Clinic on Kim Ma Street in Hanoi, Vietnam, waiting for someone who had become ill.   I didn’t know it would be three hours, but then, that’s the magic of unexpected time.  You just never know how much you’ll have. 

Family Medical Practice, Kim Ma Street, Hanoi, Vietnam

The clinic is compact, a space big enough for about eight chairs clustered in front of a reception desk.  At any given time, there were five or six people waiting, from Japan and Australia, Sweden and Vietnam.   My colleague disappeared into the back room so I waited. 

And waited. 

First, I read the only English language magazines in the clinic, the ones I used to skim or not even glance at when I lived in Hanoi.  But that day, they held my attention--for about seven minutes—with the photos of people out on the town, in a resort, or at the opening of a new hotel.  

Next, I took a walk outside but not too far in case my colleague came out of the patient room.  I checked text messages on my decidedly non-smart phone. 

But at last, I settled in and then had one of those forced epiphanies that come when you least expect them but need to have them: I had a chunk of unexpected time and, because it’s so rare, I was wasting it. 

Then I could hardly get enough of it. 

I wrote ideas in my notebook, scribbling like I was in a race, thinking I had, perhaps 10 more minutes, instead of what ended up being another two hours. I didn't want to squander any more of my unexpected time.   

Moleskin Rules (Rachel Phipps photo)

I had a good conversation with myself.  I came up with ideas for future projects.  But most of all, I had fun.

All because of some unexpected time.

So on this trip, I’ll be ready for those unexpected moments–when the flight is delayed by 45 minutes, when we sit on the tarmac waiting for a gate, or when I’m on the subway for four or five hours each day.  (Believe me, in Seoul, you can spend much of your day underground, going from one part of the city to the other.) 

Subway, Seoul (from koreaasia).

Think about it.  When you next find some unexpected time, how can you use it to be creative, to rest your brain, to muse.  Then, figure out how expect unexpected time and tap it.