Want to be more productive? Do nothing for a while
Want to be more productive? Do nothing for a while. Watching a coffee pot boil or gazing out the window has become harder with WFH now firmly ingrained in our schedules, but these brief, mindless timeouts help our brains reinforce long-term learning and productivity, writes the Wall Street Journal. Empty periods of time are important for your brain’s cleanup process, and rest is a surefire way to enhance our neurological flexibility, allowing us to build the introspection necessary for a sense of purpose and wellbeing, says University of Southern California Psychology and Neuroscience professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.
Resting and being idle are not the same thing: Neuroscience research has shown that the region of the brain that becomes active when we are “doing nothing,” called the Default Mode Network, is essential for developing our understanding of ourselves, processing information, and resolving problems and tensions. During this resting mode, the brain is actually consuming 20 times as much energy as it does when we actively respond to an outside stimulus. Since our brains are running background processes all the time, a degree of daydreaming is essential for our minds to decongest.
Here are some techniques to help you do nothing: Taking a long shower can help your mind wander can help quieten down hectic environments, as can playing a game without keeping score, and taking the time to cook a big meal. The therapeutic effects of spending time in nature (or just outdoors in general) have also been widely researched, with one study showing that s 90 minute walk significantly reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with negative thought patterns, anxiety, and worrying. Setting a 10k step target, or starting off with a smaller goal has also been linked to mental benefits. And if all else fails, just sitting down or taking a short nap can do the trick. Focusing on your breathing through meditation or other techniques is also a tried and true way to quieten the mind.
The key is to break out of the rat race: Whichever activity you choose, it needs to be done without goals or objectives. Keeping score is labor, the article suggests, and while achieving a target does induce dopamine, staying focused on the target will detract from the purpose of the exercise, which is shutting off your brain to begin with. So don’t feel guilty about getting some rest or just staring out the window. Science recommends it.