Doodling isn't the fluffy time waster you think it might be! In a 2009 study, psychologist Jackie Andrade found that participants who were allowed to doodle during a rambling 3 minute voicemail message were able to retain 29% more material than the control group! Now you'll be lickety split on the recall next time Uncle Ned quizzes you on his voicemail about the latest episode of gout, the DOW closing, and cost of gas.
Researchers theorize that doodling helps activate the "idle, intrinsic default" pathways of your brain (in the medial temporal and posterior cingulate cortex), which is important to combat the strong inhibitory signals from your executive brain (frontal lobes). Translation: your bully executive "boss" yells at your creative "supporting" staff to SIMMER DOWN. But when you are allowed to use those intrinsic pathways of your brain WHILE focusing your attention on a task, you recall more information efficiently.
Let's say your 5th grader needs to memorize the 50 states. If he tried to "overfocus" on this task alone, his frontal lobes could handle it (but it's exhausting!). However, if he picks up a pencil and doodles at the same time, then he's using a variety of accessory neuronal pathways, weaving it into a tapestry of traceable memory. Now he's able to repeat these states easier!
Try it for yourself! Maybe next time you won't forget the butter at the grocery store!