Adult Coloring Boosts Productivity

If you want your IT team to get things done, break out a pack of crayons and some coloring books at work.

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

June 12, 2015

4 Min Read
<p align="left">(Image: <a href="" target="_blank">Pearson</a> via Amazon)</p>

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The next time your IT team is stuck for a creative solution to a problem, I suggest you break out the crayons and start coloring. Better yet, I suggest you integrate coloring into your disaster planning, network architecture, and anything else for which you need a map or chart.

Don't feel childish. Coloring has been proven to boost creativity and memory, improve our engagement at work, and lower stress. Read this, and you'll run out to buy a Crayola Big Box with the sharpener in the back for your whole team.

Your brain likes color. It helps it sort information and stay engaged. In fact, I'm going to give you a little blast of color right now to help you retain the rest of this article.

You know this about color instinctively as a business person. You don't create black-and-white ads if you can afford color. Your corporate logo probably isn't gray. Studies show brand recognition improves by 80% when color is added. Imagine the Coca-Cola logo without the red background. People will read an ad 42% more often if it is color. This is a normal part of business. Why aren't you putting it into practice in other places?

Simply adding color to text allows for 35% faster reading in autistic children. Adding color to text enhances memory in Alzheimer's patients. Students engage more of their brain when reading a text in color.

Think of it like doodling, another habit often maligned in the business world. Doodling has been proven to keep people's attention, to keep them more engaged, and to help connect memories from a lecture or meeting. People who doodle, even with abstract lines and patterns, recall more than people who don't. Coloring is doodling on steroids, because color turns on our brain.

[ And this true of some of the short attention span we have on the Internet, too. Read Microsoft Says Short Attention Spans Are Fine. ]

Instinctually, it is clear many of us feel this. In April, the top two bestselling books on Amazon were coloring books for adults. (Both are still in the top 20.) Five of the ten best-selling books in England recently were adult coloring books. If you have kids, you know that coloring with them is a secret pleasure. I dare you to say it isn't.

In 1982, noted anthropology professor Adrienne Zilhman put out a college-level textbook-as-coloring-book called The Human Evolution Coloring Book. That book, still in print, spawned many copycats in other fields. Working with color is a proven way to learn. It has decades of scientific backing.

You've almost certainly seen this anatomy book in college bookstores. It's a best-seller and a common part of early anatomy education:

Yet, I know if your CEO came into your department and saw your whole team coloring, he'd have questions and potentially a pink slip for you. It is a shame really. So here's the deal: If you can't get away with pulling out the coloring books, I want you to pull out the colored markers and hand-draw, in color, your data center, your network, your org charts -- anything. Color-code them. Fill in the boxes with colors that have meaning to you.

It will help your brain encode the information. You will learn it faster and retain it better. You'll be more creative, so you'll see flaws in the design. You'll loosen up and have a little fun. The stress release will be good for your health and for your team. Reducing stress even cuts down on sick days, so your team will be more productive. Color. It's good for you. It's good for your company.

Here's the thing: The sales of adult coloring books, the number of doodlers in meetings, the people secretly enjoying coloring their kids' restaurant place mats all show we're all into this instinctively. Why are we resisting at work in the name of looking business-like? Here's a starting picture for you to try. Go nuts.


What do you think? Have I convinced you to try it? Will you break out the crayons at your next meeting? What would be the response in your company if you tried it? Let me know in the comments section below.

About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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