For most of us, we feel the pressure of an overcrowded calendar and too many tasks on our list to accomplish.
With this performance pressure, it’s easy to feel like you can’t possibly slow down and smell the roses. After all, if you take a break or a moment to yourself, when you return to your desk there will be even more emails and Slack messages to process.
This can lead to days that feel like there isn’t even a moment to stop and collect your thoughts. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
But on top of being exhausting, never stopping to let your mind wander can actually impact your creativity and productivity.
There is currently no universally accepted definition of mind wandering. However, it can be thought of as simply thinking that is independent of a specific stimulus.
Mind wandering can occur when you are trying to focus on something else, in which case, it can be a distraction. For example, if you are on a customer call and you find yourself not listening but instead thinking about what’s for dinner, that is not optimal.
Mind wandering can also very quickly shift to rumination, which is where you are experiencing self-focused and repetitive, often negative, thoughts. This type of mind wandering can have a negative effect on your interactions with others.
Finally, mind wandering can occur when you are doing something that requires minimal focus, like going on a run, taking a shower, or driving. This type of mind wandering is often when you make a breakthrough on a hard problem you have been thinking about or working on for a while.
Most of our days at work are spent in an active task focus mode, as they should be! However, there are often times when it feels like you have hit a wall and are stuck.
If this is the case, a little mind wandering may be just what you need. However, it can be hard to figure out when and how to take a few minutes to clear your mind. Here are a few tips on how you can intentionally cultivate some space.
A short walk around the block can do wonders for your body and your mind. You don’t have to commit to walking miles on end because even a few minutes moving in the sun with fresh air can have a huge impact on you.
One way to schedule these is to plan a walk in either right before or directly after lunch. Getting a walk done in the middle of the day is a great way to break up the day and build additional energy for the afternoon.
Breathwork is a great way to quickly clear your mind and reduce stress levels. While doing breathwork, you should be focused on whatever the prescribed method is (for instance, box breathing), but it’s only natural that your mind will wander slightly while you are breathing.
A quick minute of intentional breathwork is super easy to accomplish any time during the day, even between meetings during a hectic day. This simple grounding exercise can clear your mind and help you make connections that you wouldn’t have noticed without the break.
When you are working through a task that is relatively mindless, like clearing out junk emails or cleaning up a spreadsheet, your mind will want to wander naturally. This is because the effort of the tasks does not require full attention.
Using this opportunity to let your mind wander presents a great two for one opportunity. You can accomplish a task on your list but also get a little time for your mind to explore and plan for the future in a way that you cannot when your full attention is required.
Even though mind wandering may get a bad wrap, and even through it seems counterintuitive in a high stress work environment, it turns out that it can do wonders for your ability to plan and solve problems creatively. Give some of our suggested techniques a try to see if it helps you perform even better.