At work today everyone is constantly connected and inundated with new information, leaving little time for rest or self-reflection. This constant connectivity gives the impression of constant productivity, but never stepping away means that the mind doesn't have time to properly think and refresh. However, even a few minutes of downtime can significantly help the mind refresh, increasing overall productivity, according to neurological studies.
You should first remember not to overload your mind beyond its information handling capabilities -- it needs time to process and to rest. Use your breaks and your time off work to step away from your devices and their constant flood of information. Give your mind the time it needs. Do downtime right and you'll come back to work more productive, less stressed, and better able to take on your responsibilities once again.
1. Change Locations to Break Unproductive Thought Processes
Simply changing your environment is a great way to help your mind step away from your work and regain its efficiency and productivity, reigniting your stressed neurons. It doesn't take much. Even a simple walk away from your desk around the office will help your mind break out of its usual rhythms, letting it make non-linear associations and creative insights.
Whatever you do, stay away from more information overload during breaks. Don't walk around the office just to find yourself staring at 24-hour news in someone else's office. Don't let people drag you into extraneous meetings, or to consult on their projects. This is your time for your mind. Don't lose it.
2. Take a "Hard Break" From Your Tools
At a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in November 2017, former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya said people need a "hard break" from social media and other technological tools. Palihapitiya is not the first person to note the creativity and productivity-sapping effects of the internet, where information inundation doesn't leave any room for people to think for themselves.
Take a step back from your devices. Set aside downtime to cut yourself off from your phone and the internet, giving your mind time to process the constant influx of personalized information. Give yourself time to think through your various problems and anxieties, instead of drowning them in internet chatter.
That new text can wait. The endless stream of news will be there when you get back. If you've been working hard you should already have enough information. But just knowing that information is not enough. Your mind needs time to properly understand that information and turn it into productive work.
3. Daydream Productively
For many years, researchers considered daydreaming an unproductive waste of time. Instead of letting their minds wander, they felt that they should force themselves to work through any mental confusion. However, in recent years many scholars have started to question that assumption.
A 2013 meta-analysis out of the University of California found across multiple studies that while uncontrolled or untimely daydreaming could have adverse effects, daydreaming and downtime are clearly necessary to productive brain function. More importantly, researchers found that daydreaming, especially if done while performing an undemanding task, such as bathing, walking in nature, or doodling, can increase creativity, help people plan for the future, keep the big picture in sight, and give the brain time to process backlogs of information.
Of course, there is a difference between productive and unproductive daydreaming. If you let your mind wander but all you can think about are anxieties and stressors, incorporate some mindfulness to keep yourself on track. And don't lose yourself in your fantasies. Spending a little time a day imagining a possible future (and how to get there) is useful. Spending all day fantasizing about an impossible future is wallowing.
Done right, downtime is a powerful method to move beyond the workaholic stresses of every day and improve your overall productivity. Take advantage of downtime to increase your creativity, productivity, and information processing. But don't wallow in your downtime. Switch between work and breaks as needed to keep yourself productive without losing yourself in either.