Updated: Apr 9, 2019
We all have moods. Let’s take that wonderful dreamy state that is so easy to slip into during the day. Some of us call this daydreaming, others refer to this as mind wandering. But should we revel in this mind mood or push it away and bring our mind back to task? Basically, is there a benefit to letting our mind wander at work? Let’s investigate.
Here I am sitting at my writing desk, fingers poise over the keyboard. Instead of working I stare into space beyond the computer and slip into a strange sleepiness and a different kind of reality. My mind suddenly inhabits a different place, detached from the hum drum. But is this doing me any good?
We take these sorts of transitions for granted. Intriguingly, there is no clear consensus on how the brain even keeps us functioning while we step away into an inner world of imagination.
What is agreed upon amongst researchers is that daydreaming or mind wandering happens when the brain links up lots of regions, rather than finding a home in a nondescript lump of tissue in the brain. This stitched-together activity is called functional connectivity, and it is a key to why mind wandering at work might be good for us and the corporation.
There are still some who use the terms ‘aimless’ and ‘undirected’ to describe this mood in the mind. These words carry the idea of a time-waster. Others warn outright that daydreaming can be dangerous, leading to a new form of addiction.
For most of us the worst we will confront is guilt at spending time off task.
So, what is the verdict? Well we can draw on a study by Erik Dane, from Rice University. He looked at the consequences of mind-wandering for corporations.
First there is bad news. Mind wandering means we miss out on information needed for good decision-making. It also increases errors and is a safety risk. But there is plenty of good news too. I mentioned that the link-up in the brain which happens during this kind of mind mood is important. This is the case because it increases plasticity in the mind; that ability to think in new ways and join up ideas to form new solutions.
The upshot is that mind wandering at work helps us come up with creative ways of modifying tasks, which can save time for our business in the long run. And since we also anticipate problems, plan ahead and solve complex problems with a mind like this, mind wandering can get us to an end point faster. These are definite advantages for job performance.
But we can’t ignore one last element. There is a dark side to daydreaming that arises from a mind troubled by anxiety or stress. Here, thoughts turn to negativity and mind wandering becomes an escape.
So, all in all, mind wandering at work is likely to be helpful, but only if our boss and team put some effort into making the environment pleasant.
In the following post we will investigate simple solutions for coping with stress.
Till next time – B.W. Cribb