It's not just you. Being busy all the time is terrible for your brain, science has confirmed.

You know that constantly running around from one commitment to another seems to dull your creativity and sap much of the joy from life. Studies show your intuition is accurate. Downtime really is essential for both mental health and innovation.

"Many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. 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," Ferris Jabr has written in Scientific American, summing up the research.

What if I can't quit my job and move to the country?

Knowing you're not making up the problem might come as cold comfort, however, if you're not in a position to significantly slow down your life. Maybe you're the CEO of a young startup, the parent of young kids, or a (mostly) happy but overwhelmed executive who enjoys her busy job. But for whatever reason, you're not going to be able to add many long, leisurely hours of silence to your day anytime soon. What then?

Is there no way to minimize the mental damage of busyness without selling your house and moving to a farm in the country? Are you doomed to fry your brain if you can't find hours or days of quiet to recharge?

Nope, Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz, a pair of consultants who regularly work with the super busy, reassure worried readers in a recent HBR blogs post. After running through the usual scary research on the negative effects of busyness, they insist that "even incredibly busy people can cultivate periods of sustained quiet time."

Here are their four suggestions for how to slip some stillness into your busy day. Handily, every one is backed by a ton of science.

  1. "Punctuate meetings with five minutes of quiet time." Science shows that even extremely quick breaks can refresh your brain, as long as you leave your phone behind and fully unplug. Walking may be an especially good way to take a fast and healthful break.
  2. "Take a silent afternoon in nature." There is an equally tall stack of studies that attest to the incredible powers of nature to revive our energy levels and boost our creativity. (If you can't manage an afternoon out of the office, even staring at a potted plant for a few seconds might help a little.)
  3. "Go on a media fast." Talbo-Zorn and Marz explain: "Turn off your email for several hours or even a full day, or try 'fasting' from news and entertainment." Once again, this is a research-backed suggestion and might be a particularly good idea if the news is a particular source of stress for you at the moment.
  4. "Try a meditation retreat." Meditation isn't self-help mumbo jumbo. Science recommends it for just about everything that plagues us psychologically, and you can get benefits in just minutes a day. Even getting started is probably easier than you think.

Do you have any tricks to sneak a few minutes of quiet time into your busy day?

Published on: Mar 20, 2017
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