Why being lost in thought is not lost time….
Much of the writing around work and achievement comes with inbuilt assumptions about the kind of work that we value. In particular, it’s assumed that the work produces some form of measurable output – and the more of it the better. So, we read about how to 10x our productivity, achieve extreme focus or hack our way to success. The ample use of exclamation marks serves to either fire us up or to shame us on the days when our own productivity levels are more slacker than Stakhanov.
On one level this makes sense: it would be impossible for businesses and the individuals within them to function without tangible results of some kind. Meetings, calls, advice letters, reports – these are the currencies of the modern knowledge economy. But what’s sometimes overlooked in this drive towards visible outputs is the value of processes which are largely invisible.
Take daydreaming, for instance, or free form visualisation to give it a more technical term (which I may or may not have dreamed up). Academic and anecdotal evidence increasingly highlights the role that time spent free of productive expectation can play in enriching our personal and professional lives.
But What About the Bottom Line?!
Of course, the concept of employees staring dreamily into space for hours may send chills down the spine of most employers. Nevertheless, there are hard-nosed commercial reasons for breaking out of task mode for at least part of your working week. According to Daniel Levitin, Cognitive Scientist at McGill University, the process of daydreaming moves us beyond the limited processing capacity of our conscious mind and “is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable.”
In a work context, this could allow us to: visualise new opportunities or product lines, reimagine our own roles, bring innovative solutions to old problems. In a fast-moving world, the jobs that we do now or the processes we follow may exist more as a result of historical accident than strategic design – daydreaming can allow you to think beyond the limits of your current reality.
While there’s no right or wrong way, some times and places will be better than others. If only for social and practical reasons. Zoning out mid-conversation is probably best avoided. Ditto while operating heavy machinery. A walk in nature might provide a good opportunity, or some distraction free minutes during your morning commute. The main thing is that your mind is free from the immediate preoccupations and pressures of everyday life, even if just momentarily.
The only rule is to not set rules: your more ‘off-the-wall’ ideas [“What if I wrote a Christmas Number 1 and lived off the royalties?!”] can always be critically appraised with your rational brain at a later date and at that point you can decide whether or not to proceed.
Above all, happy dreaming!
The guest author of this post, Deirdre Lyons, is Business and Project Manaager at Dabl Ltd. Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on Inspo.