Not All Minds that Wander are Lost

Owning a business is a bit like putting on a solo-performance: it requires a lot of shifting from one role to a different one. Not only do you move from one role to another within the play itself, you’re also the writer, director, producer, costume designer, and every other person on the credit list.  It can be hard to put it all together, and requires immense concentration to do well.

What kind of impact does shifting between all these roles have on how effectively you do your work, especially when one of the roles requires you to think creatively?

All the movement from one task to another requires a lot of work in certain areas of your brain.  Concentration taxes your functionality, because brains expend extra energy shifting back and forth, draining much needed energy from important tasks on your to-do list. 

It also makes deep focus and exploration of a particular task super challenging.  Research shows it can take up to 20 minutes to get back on track when you’re distracted or interrupted by something as simple as a conversation or email notification chirp.

In a creative business, especially, switching back and forth kills inspired output.  A tired brain is more likely to take longer to come up with solutions or not produce down as many options to consider.  The quantity and quality of work both suffer.

If you want to create, produce or design at your peak ability, make a moment for what’s called mind-wandering – a state of not paying attention to what you’re doing and instead thinking of other things.  Science shows us some of the quickest, best and most bountiful ideas come when the brain is in the mind-wandering state. 

So how do you get into this state of mind if you’re going back and forth so much on a daily basis?

·      The easiest way to do it is to occupy the rational part of your brain with mind-numbing tasks.  Aside from taking a shower (hard to do in the office), you might consider going on a walk in a natural environment, doodling on a paper, driving long distances on a highway with the radio silent, or other menial tasks that focus your attention on small but mindless activities.

·      Physical activities are great to keep you focused on the body while opening your mind to free-flowing thoughts.  Choose something with a light and steady pace, like a rural bike ride or trail run.

·      Play background music while you do these tasks.  Pick something at a pace like JT’s “Mirrors” and play at a medium volume so it’s not distracting.  You can even find playlists on Spotify under “mindwandering.”

·      For those who work at home, cleaning and house chores are a great way to put yourself in mind-wandering mode.  Do the dishes, fold laundry, sweep the floor, rake leaves or mow the lawn.  (Not only will you come up with some great ideas, your spouse or housemates will thank you!)

·      Plan mind-wandering time in advance.  Leave a chunk of 30-60 minutes after you work through the constraints of a problem or client meeting.  Fill the time with those inane activities.

·      Be sure to keep something around to record your thoughts.  A voice recorder is better than a note pad because it allows you to convey the idea nearly as fast as you can think, rather than get slowed down by typing or writing.

Now, instead of looking at monotonous work  as wasted, see it as a chance to get lost in your thoughts and tap into divergent thinking that produces deeply creative ideas.