Do you often daydream at work? The good news is, it might actually be making you better at your job.
If you were ever reprimanded as a child for not paying attention in class, you might still have a negative association with daydreaming. But it turns out that letting your mind wander could help you focus, boosting your productivity more than keeping your thoughts on your work.
Here’s what you need to know:
Trying too hard to focus can hold you back
There’s some evidence that it might be better to let your thoughts drift away from the task at hand once in a while. Staying intensely focused for extended periods of time isn’t just difficult, it might tank your productivity.
Dr. Srini Pillay, author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlocking the Power of the Unfocused Mind says that focusing too hard can drain your energy. Your brain only has so much capacity for focus, he says. Overextending or taxing that resource can leave you depleted and unable to focus at all. Per Dr. Pillay, if you find yourself drinking a lot of coffee just to stay awake, it could be a sign you’re extended beyond your capacity.
Pillay also feels that focus can hinder creativity. Focusing intensely on just one thing doesn’t allow for the spontaneous free flow of ideas that can lead to breakthroughs. Innovation comes, not from extended periods of focus, but from the formation of new ideas and creative solutions.
Limiting your mind’s natural tendency to wander could also stop you from being able to see the forest for the trees. Being able to see the big picture is good for business.
It’s best to work in sprints
The fact is, the human brain has only so much capacity for focus. A more optimal condition is to toggle between periods of focus and rest. Some even say that you shouldn’t work for more than 90 minutes at a time. Allowing for unfocused break periods helps to realign and reinvigorate your capacity for intense work.
“To maximize gains from long-term practice,” said Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson, “individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”
You’re more able to be productive when you’re feeling relaxed. Taking the time to recover from periods of intense focus is essential in order to replenish your energies and capacity for hard work.
Certain “distractions” can help you focus
These findings allow us to understand that some things that appear to be distractions might help workers to focus. Daydreaming is one example. Doodling at work, particularly during long, draining meetings helps some people to be engaged. Similarly, vacations actually increase productivity.
So, the next time you find your mind wandering at work, consider letting it go for a little while. There’s no need to beat yourself up about or try too hard to pull yourself back. Instead, see what happens if you just relax a little. You just might find you get more done, not less.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you daydream at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.