Recommended ReadsAugust 4th, 2020

The art and science of mind-wandering

Jess Allison
Jess Allison, People and Operations Director

Our mind constantly oscillates between two modes: focused thinking and diffused thinking (aka mind-wandering). A lot of productivity articles will help you focus when your mind wants to wander. Not so many encourage mind-wandering when your mind wants to focus on something. But we need both modes to do our best work.

This neuroscience-y article is essentially about how the brain-magic happens when we have space to think, and how we need to build headspace into our day and routines to enable this. I shared a ‘calendar hack’ in my recent panel talk, which was related to this: use your calendar to build in break times between meetings to enable follow-up actions and to capture/delegate tasks to be done later.

But this article goes even further, saying we need to schedule in unfocused time, both to give our brains a rest, and to allow different types of connections to be made.

From the article:

Focused thinking is when we work hard to understand a problem at hand. We go into the details, we do some research, we actively explore potential solutions. As you have probably noticed through your personal experience, focused thinking has a high cognitive load, which makes it hard to maintain over a long period of time.

Diffused thinking is when we let our mind wander, which we sometimes call daydreaming. Shower thoughts are a typical result of such a relaxed state. When you are in the shower, you don’t think about nothing. While you are not actively trying to address a problem, your mind is busy making connections in the background.

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