brain-downtimeWasting time increases productivity. Paradoxical, but true. It leads to increased creativity, too.

In a Scientific American article, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime, that goes on for a hefty 6,000 words, the author summarizes: “research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.”

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.

“It’s easy to underestimate boredom,” proclaims another, in The Importance of Mind-Wandering. It leads to mind-wandering, which, in a culture obsessed with efficiency, is considered lazy: a sign of procrastination, not productivity. Examining a few studies, he concluded that mind-wandering is a talent that if properly unlocked and developed, leads to increased creativity.

The value of “wasting” time extends even to law firms.

But we’re not paying heed. In America, we have a frugal 10 vacation days on average (people in the Netherlands have 26!). Yet surveys show that in 2012 we had an average of nine unused vacation days. Even when we do get away, we’re preoccupied with work, checking emails, returning phone calls, or catching up on a project. That’s not good for productivity. It’s not good for creativity. And it’s not good for our brain.

It’s time to make a change and avoid mental fatigue by getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night, using your vacation days, taking naps and small breaks during the day, and practicing meditation. And, don’t feel guilty about wiling away a weekend or “wasting” your time on a video game or mobile app. Give your brain a break. Increased productivity and creativity will be your reward.

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