Thinking seems to have become a luxury.
Time management experts recommend scheduling “meetings with yourself,” so you will have time to think. But many of us try to cram in 40 hours worth of work into a 45-minute window. How can we dedicate time to thinking deeply, which allows us to more creatively solve problems?
I’ve been learning more about neuroscience lately, and one discovery I have made is that daydreaming is actually good for us. Brain scans using a fMRI (functional MRI) reveal that there is a connection between mind wandering and creativity. Scientists have also linked our daydreaming to intelligence.
These findings led me to wonder, how should we spend those pockets of time when we could allow our mind to wander? Should we pointedly think through a problem, or should we just let our minds go?
The answer is, both and neither. Much like an optical illusion image that reveals itself when we relax our gaze, allowing our minds to be spontaneous in their wander proves to be more useful in solving problems than directed thought. It’s also important to distinguish creative wandering from rumination or obsessive worrying. Those behaviors can worsen depression and anxiety.
To make the use of your mental down time, think about the three “As.” This simple framework outlined in Caroline Webb’s How to Have a Good Day will allow you to make the most of your down time. Before you grab that pile of laundry or head to the sink full of dishes, do this:
Aim. Set an overall aim for your thought wandering – what’s bothering you? What’s “on your mind”? Think of what it is, and then let your thoughts go.
Attitude. Check in with your body, your mood, your emotions – what’s your overall attitude? Is this attitude going to help you with your aim, or could it derail you? If you determine it to be a derailer, then set it aside. If you find yourself ruminating on it, catch yourself. You can even give yourself time later specifically to worry about other issues on your mind.
Attention. Perhaps the biggest challenge to considering new ideas is our confirmation bias. What do you already believe to be true about your “thought topic”? For example, do you think “I can’t get all this work done?” Instead of focusing on what you believe is true, aim to put your attention on new possibilities. Try the trick of asking yourself, “What would need to be true for [insert goal here] to happen?” By shifting your attention, your thoughts can find new avenues to explore.
If you use your unstructured time for barely structured daydreaming, you might find yourself more effective tackling your 40-hours of work in the 45 minutes you have to do it!
Want to catch “a day in the life” of a working mom with four young children? Check out Nicole’s takeover of the @getuplifted Instagram account on March 5th. You might even get behind the scenes with former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina for the R. H. Smith School’s annual Women Leading Women event happening on March 5th as well.