Doodling is a way of passing the time when bored by a lecture or telephone call. Does it improve or hinder attention to the primary task? To answer this question, 40 participants monitored a monotonous mock telephone message for the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a ‘doodling’ condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test. Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial. Future research could test whether doodling aids cognitive performance by reducing daydreaming. Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The test subjects were given small shapes to shade in, to replicate the absent-mindedness of natural doodling (b/c if subjects felt their doodles were the real focus of the study, they might feel self-conscious).
Some have thought that doodling would actually detract resources from the primary task, like, say, attending a writing conference or a training of any kind. But it appears that doodling actually maintains arousal levels and aids in concentration....so go for it.
Out here in California, I regularly attend trainings with manipulatives on the tables, such as tiny play-doh containers, crayons, pipe cleaners, etc. In my office, I have what I call "fidgety toys," for those folks with restless energy who just need to engage their hands in something so they can free their mind to talk to me. I use toys such as Tangle Creations, slinkies, Jacob's ladders, wire fidgeters, etc, to name a few.
So shamelessly pull out your pieces of paper and sketch away...or play with games on your iPhone or iPad. The results are the same.