So here is the thing. Most of us believe, me included that focus is the key to better productivity and meaningful life.
Srini Pillay thinks otherwise.
Dr. Srini Pillay is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry (Part-Time) at Harvard Medical School. He is also an executive coach, technology innovator and author of the 2017 book Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He was Director of the Outpatient Anxiety Disorders Program at McLean Hospital and was Director of the Panic Disorders Research Program in the Brain Imaging Center. There, he spent 17 years studying functional brain imaging.
He wrote an article in HBR around the time the above book was released and elaborated on his findings around how the wandering mind contributes to productive output. In his book he covered “how specific kinds of planned unfocus stimulate cognitive calmness, jumpstart productivity, enhance innovation, inspire creativity, improve long-term memory, and, of course, help you stay on target.”
How does this work?
Unfocus leads the brain to go into DMN or “default mode network”. Using nearly 20% of bodies energy it “activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas.” This recombining, accessing the inaccessible leads “to better decision making” and tunes “into other people’s thinking, thereby improving team understanding and cohesion.”
Srini Pillay outlines some techniques that you may apply to activate DMN –
Using positive constructive daydreaming (PCD): Unlike day dreaming you choose a involuntary muscle memory dependent activity like knitting or gardening (urban drivers in slow moving traffic filled roads do this all the time, with considerable risk I must add) and let your mind wander.
Taking a nap: 10 minutes and you wake up with a clearer mind, 90 minutes and you got a “more complete brain refreshing”.
Pretending to be someone else: Role playing can help “get you out of your own head, and allow you to think from another person’s perspective”
46.9% of our days are spent with out minds wandering away from the task we are doing. Instead of fighting this natural renewal of our brain we should learn to leverage it to “update information in the brain, giving us access to deeper parts of ourselves and enhancing our agility, creativity and decision-making too.”