Do you ever feel like you should take a moment to disengage? Perhaps a walk around the block or a short coffee break. Both of these things can help you recharge your brain, but so can something else that we’ve always considered a bad habit, daydreaming. Yes, the act of sitting and just letting your mind wander can actually help you be more productive. According to new studies, daydreaming inspires creativity.
Last year, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology published new research into the first person experience of daydreaming in the workplace called, A Qualitative Study of Daydreaming Episodes at Work. According to the paper, “empirical research has found that from 25 to 50% of our waking time is spent with thoughts on things other than the current activity in which we are engaged.”
The authors state that, “mind wandering experiences may be of particular importance for understanding a variety of workplace processes and experiences. These shifts in attention may operate in tandem with other experiential processes, such as emotion episodes and emotion regulation, stress events, or accumulated fatigue over the course of a workday.” They also mention the impact of daydreaming on the subjective, or person-centric, experience at work. An area that has become more important to millenials and the generations that follow.
The well being movement may explain why we are now looking at the impact of daydreaming from a scientific standpoint. “Despite mind wandering’s connection to person- and organization-centric outcomes, this phenomenon has been largely ignored in the work and organizational psychology literature.”
Not surprisingly, the study participants did admit they had guilt about daydreaming. Yet they also mentioned the positive aspects of daydreaming including productivity gains and mental health benefits. “This study complements existing research to show that, in some situations, daydreaming can be helpful,” researcher Kelsey Merlo said. “People can use daydreams as ‘mini-breaks’ throughout their workday, allowing them to return to their work feeling more refreshed, energised, and productive.”
A 2017 University of Cambridge study was able to identify a connection between the default mode network which is where the brain daydreams, and the ability to execute tasks properly without thinking about them, in effect being on cruise control. There may be real benefits to your mental health by daydreaming.
Another practice that has demonstrated positive benefits and is very similar to daydreaming is the Dutch concept of doing nothing, called niksen. According to Eve Ekman, director of training at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, stress levels for teens and young adults in the United States is “daunting.” She notes that research is showing that slowing down can benefit us both emotionally as well as physically and niksen is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.
Similar to daydreaming, niksen has also shown it can improve creative thinking. Per Ruut Veenhoven, a sociologist and professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, “Even when we ‘niks,’” or do nothing, “our brain is still processing information and can use the available processing power to solve pending problems.” We call this the eureka moment, whether we have it when we’re falling asleep, in the shower, or on a long run, it happens when our brain is on auto-pilot, effectively doing nothing.
So the good news is that daydreaming is not decreasing your productivity, in fact it is likely improving your productivity. And that carries over from business to personal. Creative thinking is not something we can do on demand and often requires time for ideas to marinate. Allowing yourself small mind-wandering breaks might just make you feel better too. If you have questions on building a culture that supports creative ideation, send us a note.