Our modern workplace leaves little time for thinking. The emphasis is placed on doing, but is this really the best way to achieve optimum productivity? Evolutionarily speaking, mind wandering – in other words, daydreaming – is essential for clear cognition, creativity and overall productivity. So, if you’re too stressed to make time for thinking, it’s actually detrimental to your work. Here’s how you can change that.
Bring strategy into your work
Busy fool syndrome refers to the phenomenon where workers allow a sense of busyness to fool them into thinking they’re being productive. It’s often the excuse people reach for when seeking to justify their lack of thinking time, but rejecting this mindset is the only way to overcome it.
That means bringing strategy into your working day. Unfortunately, a to-do list alone won’t cut it. Instead, you must set clear priorities and build your working day around them. That means asking the following questions about any given task:
- When is the deadline
- What is the value of the work
- How long will it take?
With these considerations in mind, you can effectively plan what you’d like to achieve in a day. While a sense of stress can tempt you into diving right into work without pausing to think, doing so actually limits your ability to increase your productive output. Strategy is crucial to ensure you’re achieving the best you can.
Daily daydream breaks will enable you to tap into all the associated benefits, with enhanced productivity and creativity, as well as improved mood.
Fuelling the subconscious
If you’re looking to make your thinking time as productive as possible, you need to ensure that your subconscious mind has something to chew on. Neurologically, our focus acts like a spotlight – powering down other parts of the brain, so more effort can be concentrated on what’s in front of us. Daydreaming, however, is like a soft focus allowing more parts of the brain to light up and connect.
This is why mind wandering engages the subconscious and facilitates everything from creativity to problem solving. In a work context, you can focus your daydreaming efforts by studying the area you’d like to ideate in.
For example, if you’d like to come up with ideas for team building activities, you could spend some time reviewing all the things you’d like the activity to achieve and looking at ideas others have tried online. This will then focus your subconscious so related ideas are more likely to crop up when you take time out to think.
Making time to think
Of course, daydreaming is only effective if you regularly make time for it, and this is where most people fall down. Daily daydream breaks will enable you to tap into all the associated benefits, with enhanced productivity and creativity, as well as improved mood.
To do this, carve out specific periods in your day which can be used exclusively for daydreaming. You have to treat this with the same respect you would a meeting, blocking out time in your calendar and committing to turning up and tuning out.
It’s important to note that effective daydreaming is not the same as dwelling or worrying. Instead, it should involve a wandering mind that roams through a series of topics, allowing connections to naturally spark as you jump from thing to thing.
Many people find the daydreaming state itself is best entered into by engaging in a repetitive or mundane task. This might mean going for a walk or run, but could even mean working through some chores. Crucially, you must resist the temptation to put on a podcast or listen to music, as it is the sense of boredom which will induce your mind to naturally start wandering.
Stress can fool us into thinking there’s no time for anything – let alone thinking.
Boundaries are absolutely essential when it comes to making time for thinking. If you’ve spent most of your working life in ‘busy’ mode – responding reactively to problems as and when they crop up – this will likely take some time to adjust to.
The good news is that making time to think will naturally produce better ideas, better work and better collaboration. When colleagues see these benefits, they will be less likely to challenge you on your new way of working – and more likely to adopt it themselves!
Still, to reach that point, you must ensure you respect your own boundaries and that means believing in the philosophy of making time to think. It can feel scary carving out time when you’re stressed, but small steps are the best way to make it happen. That could mean taking just fifteen minutes out of your day every day, to increase the time you spend thinking as the months go on.
Stress can fool us into thinking there’s no time for anything – let alone thinking. But by making time to let your mind wander, you’ll soon discover that this is a false perception. Time to think is crucial for our mood, productivity and ability to achieve our best work.