When you have a pressing deadline or trying to come up with new ways of doing things, you usually sit at your desk and force yourself to think and focus on the task until it is finished. We assume that if we keep our focus on the task until it is complete, what we come up with will be sufficient. Doing this on a daily basis leads to burnout, affects mental health, and stifles thinking and creativity.
What if what you really need is to be distracted?
I do not mean the type of distraction that takes your attention away from your work while you are working. It is the type of distraction you need to disconnect from your work even if the task you are working on or project is not complete, to give your mind and body a breather and a chance to recuperate, recharge, and come back to it refreshed.
Conscious minds have limited capacity. We can only process so much data at one time and only one thought at a time. When we refrain from attending to an issue or problem too closely, we reach the best decisions.
The unconscious mind is superior at processing large chunks of information simultaneously. Recent studies have also discovered that unconscious thinking is well equipped for creative problem solving and coming up with innovative ideas. I know I have had “Aha!” moments unexpectedly when I was not even thinking about the problem.
We do not usually think of taking a break and are inclined to force ourselves to finish the job at hand even if it takes all day, but just as you cannot sprint a marathon, we should not force our minds to either. While we need time to focus to complete tasks, we tend to force ourselves to keep our heads down too much. Too much focus can hurt your performance and productivity in three main ways:
How can we disconnect and distract ourselves that will be productive?
Leave your desk and go outdoors for a walk, cycle, jog, or swim. This approach is beneficial for two main reasons:
On days where you cannot leave the office, try doodling. Choose a project, talk (eg. a TED Talk), book, song, or even a word/phrase/idiom. Doodle what you have chosen without using any words that best conveys the message or meaning.
Scrolling through social media leads to procrastination and does not truly give your mind a break, as well as having an adverse effect on mental wellbeing. Doodling, on the other hand, is a healthy and creative distraction. It helps you connect with your unconscious mind, allowing you to retain more information, improve your memory recall, and build creativity.
Taking a sickie or going on annual leave is not enough and will not curb burnout, if you do not give your mind and body a breather and the chance to disconnect throughout the day. Burnout and stress impair problem solving, decision making, and creativity.
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