Every morning before I go to work, I take my dog Bumpkin on a long walk. My iPhone doesn’t come with us; it’s just Bumpkin and me. Because I will spend most of the rest of the day working with computers, I see this as an opportunity to reclaim my ability to be present in the world.

Some of my best ideas come to me during these walks. I remember things I heard or learned the previous day, find connections between them, explore different directions. When one idea catches my interest, I focus on it, mulling it over until various angles and perspectives become clear. When I get home, I write it down. (They often end up on this blog.)

I cherish this ability to noodle around with ideas. For me, it’s a form of release from the goal-directed thinking that constitutes the bulk of my time; mental play I undertake with no motivation other than the pleasure of exploring relationships between concepts. This sort of play is important for my development, so I look for opportunities to create space for it in other aspects of my life. (For example, by playing around with new tools and technologies.)

Psychologists say that undirected free play is important for the development of children. Among other things, it teaches them social and mental skills and allows them to exercise these skills; to build cognitive muscle. We have no reason to expect that this need for growth and exercise ends at some point in our late childhood. As adults, it’s important that we dedicate time to noodling; we should strive to make it not just socially acceptable but expected as part of our professional and personal development.