Science behind downtime and creativity

Recently, I’ve been working fairly lengthy hours.

Most weeks, I spend my days working from house — pondering, writing, and making an attempt to recollect to unmute my Zoom mic earlier than I begin speaking. By the top of the day, after I lastly shut my laptop computer, my mind is fried. Most nights I’m so zonked it’s all I can do to open Instagram and scroll via my feed till time turns into a blur, eager to cease however unable to tear myself away from the comforting narcotic glow of novelty and stimulation.

After I lastly snap out of it, I often need to play a Conan clip on YouTube simply to entertain myself lengthy sufficient to stand up and brush my enamel. I collapse into mattress and binge-watch some Netflix, then placed on a podcast to lull myself to sleep.

It’s a tense, Sisyphean cycle, however at the least I’m making area every night time to offer myself the downtime I want.

Or so I believed—till I learn a journal article about methods to allocate your time to maximise productiveness, creativity, and psychological well-being. For the mind to thrive, you can’t spend all your time working. Human beings aren’t robots, and overwork results in burnout, disengagement, and resignations.


That a lot I already knew. However then I learn one thing that caught me abruptly: The mind additionally requires “downtime”—unstructured time with no aim in thoughts and no focused focus of consideration.

And that’s after I realized I’d been doing downtime mistaken.

Prime time isn’t downtime

All these years, I believed downtime simply meant zoning out—giving myself permission to stare on the TV and neglect about work. However truly, true downtime means no aim and no centered consideration.

Watching a present on Netflix, then, isn’t downtime as a result of it requires centered consideration. If something, it’s nearer to work than it’s to downtime. Similar goes for social media apps. Even going to the health club doesn’t qualify as downtime. While you run sprints or carry weights, you’re working towards a aim—and concentrating on what you’re doing. And meaning it’s not downtime.

Even mindfulness meditation doesn’t qualify, because it too requires centered consideration. Meditation practices like mindfulness of the breath require you to put your deal with the current second, coaching your self to note when your thoughts wanders.


I noticed the one precise downtime I had was within the bathe. And certain sufficient, bathtime has at all times been my greatest time for making connections, having creative insights, and arising with story concepts.

The creativeness community

Research present that pondering depends on the coordination of two totally different mind networks, every with its personal manner of processing info.

The primary is the task-positive community, often known as the central govt community. That is the goal-oriented a part of your mind. It prompts once you’re paying consideration: making a call, pondering via the answer to an issue, or utilizing your working reminiscence to make sense of recent info.

The opposite is the default mode community, often known as the creativeness community. That is the mind’s resting-state circuitry—the areas that come on-line once you’re not being attentive to something particularly. That is what prompts throughout downtime.

Because it seems, the creativeness community is central to innovation and creativity. Research present that creativity relies on the interplay of a number of cognitive processes, a few of that are unconscious and happen solely once we’re not specializing in a activity.

While you’re consciously specializing in an issue, the thoughts naturally tunes out info that doesn’t appear related. However generally the very best insights require a inventive leap. That’s why one of the simplest ways to unravel a fancy downside isn’t by brute drive. A greater method is to take some downtime and give the creativeness community an opportunity to work its magic: consolidating new data, making new connections, and imagining new potentialities.

That’s why Archimedes’ Eureka second got here to him when he was sitting within the tub, and why Newton formulated the legislation of gravity when he noticed an apple fall in an orchard. The epiphanies that appear to bubble up from nowhere when your thoughts is wandering are literally merchandise of the creativeness community.

Not a second to waste

As I learn extra in regards to the science of downtime, I noticed I’d been laboring below a second false impression: the idea that idle time is wasted time.

I’ve at all times had an aversion to losing time. I don’t like the concept of doing nothing.

My non-work time is so restricted, I wish to profit from each minute. That’s why I watch the MasterClass on hostage negotiation whereas I brush my enamel.

And if I actually need to do my dishes, I determine, I could as properly make that point productive. So I placed on an audiobook or a podcast, pondering I’m enhancing myself.

However even when my solely aim had been effectivity, it could nonetheless be counterproductive to attempt to hold my thoughts engaged each second. To borrow a phrase dubiously attributed to Albert Einstein: “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”

So how do you get extra downtime? Spend extra time doing nothing. Do the dishes with out a podcast within the background. Go for a stroll within the woods however depart your health tracker at house. While you fold your laundry, let the mind-numbingness of the duty truly numb your thoughts as an alternative of making an attempt to flee it.

And when a free second arises unexpectedly—when the airplane wifi stops working, or when your cellphone dies on the espresso store—resist the temptation to make use of it effectively. As an alternative, declare these moments for downtime, benefiting from the chance to do nothing in any respect.

Making extra time for downtime will create the circumstances for these thunderbolt insights to strike—and allow you to keep sane, inventive, and productive over the long run.


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