Sometimes, Taking a Break from Work can Boost Productivity
By Jéan-Claude Quintyne
A friend of mine ended his list of reasons for why he quit smoking by exclaiming, “[smoking’s] such a waste of time. You realize how many other things you could be doing.”
A “waste of time,” he said. Those words have echoed in my head ever since. I wanted to counter his comment with the suggestion that most times people take a smoke break when they need a few minutes away from an intense session of work to organize the clutter within their minds.
Sometimes the detour that a break provides elicits new ideas. And there, in that train of thought, was the golden nugget I was racking my brain for—the elicitation of new ideas.
Most of us have experienced that abrupt need to stop in the middle (immediate beginning or end) of working on something when we’ve hit a wall and cannot think of the next step that brings the completion of that project closer.
During that period of time we go on to do another activity—something that distracts us and gets our mind off of our work—with the intent to return to the thing with fresh eyes and thoughts.
And borne from that distraction is the missing piece that we sweated and consumed many cups of coffee, tea, or cigarettes trying to discover. Yet that phenomenon is never given any credit and we subconsciously repeat this action in order to yield similar results.
What if that action was grasped onto and done intentionally?
“In some ways distractions are a form of mindfulness” says Shelley H. Carson, a Harvard University psychology researcher. “Being open to them allows for the ability to take bits of information and combine them in novel ways that are useful or adaptive.”
While it is of the essence to take the time to refine focus, falling prey to distractions can take ideas and points of view down paths that heighten awareness and open up the mind to many points of inspiration.
Distractions can also pave the way to deliver solutions.
A study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that regions of the brain in charge of decision making continue to be active when the conscious parts of the brain is distracted with a different activity.
The piece also explains why “Eureka!” moments often happen while in the shower, while playing a video game, or in the midst of reading.
Though it may be counterproductive to take a break from a term paper every fifteen seconds to play Subway Surfers, taking a moment in the middle of a project to notice where everything is in the environment—how your feet touch the floor, the way your hand is holding a pen, the angle at which the sunlight hits a coffee mug—and think about how their positions can elicit a new perspective to take on an idea.
Creativity is boosted whilst being distracted as well. This isn’t just limited to the type of organization or company someone works for. Any functional variation on an idea in any field of work creates many different ways to accomplish a goal.
“Highly creative people explore the universe and allow their attention to be grabbed by everything,” says Carson. “Everything is interesting, and they’re continually rewarded by novel stimuli.”
Once the use of distractions to foment creativity is honed, it is essential to approach the activity in an open, non-judgmental way and follow the spontaneity to see where an idea can be taken.
Such a path leads to open-mindedness, the cornerstone of positive productivity. This attitude consists of the digestion of tons of useful information that, in and of itself, culminates a plethora of options to improve a project, a vision, or a lifestyle.
Isaac Newton wasn’t holed up in a laboratory when he discovered the law of gravity. He was sitting underneath a tree.
Break from an intense assignment once in a while and head out into the world and explore the many different things that compose the complex (yet simple) world we live in, or stroll around a room or a house. There will definitely be something that will open up a ferocious set of ideas waiting to be exercised.