Vacation, the very word strikes fear into the hearts of many employees and employers alike. Many employers are loathe to pay people for not being productive. Many employees fear going because of the work not getting done, enough so that many of them take work on their vacation, thinking they do it while sitting on the beach. But new research has shown that could be counterproductive. A study shows that if you want to solve your problems take a vacation… and leave the work at work.
It turns out, in addition to a big vacation, many of us take a lot, and I mean a lot , of mini-vacations. Writer Jonah Lehrer reports in his blog post The Virtues of Daydreaming that scientists have discovered that “…people let their minds wander forty-seven per cent of the time they are awake” It turns out that this occurs generally when we are doing something that is boring. Accordingly “It turns out that whenever we are slightly bored—when reality isn’t quite enough for us—we begin exploring our own associations, contemplating counterfactuals and fictive scenarios that only exist within the head.” And while the boss, and those of us with a guilt complex, may think this is a bad thing, research shows that this daydreaming time may actually be our “fountain of creativity.”
Studies using “human lab rats” aka college students, showed that subjects who were given a task then assigned to a boring task (reading a passage War and Peace) were 41% more creative when returned to the task, versus other subjects given no chance to daydream or nothing but a chance to sit and think on the task. It turns out focused attention does not really work nor being so occupied that no extra thought is allowed. As Lehrer reports “The benefit of these simple tasks is that they consume just enough attention to keep us occupied, while leaving plenty of mental resources left over for errant daydreams.”
Researcher Jonathan Schooler in previous work has shown that “…those who are more prone to mind-wandering tend to be better at generating new ideas…” Schooler says we generally think concentrating on a problem is the best way to solve it. But his research has found “If you’re trying to solve a complex problem, then you need to give yourself a real break, to let the mind incubate the problem all by itself. We shouldn’t be so afraid to actually take some time off.” This is why he says there is no need to take work on vacation because your brain is probably working on it anyway and you are more likely to come up with a creative solution than if you puzzle over it.
The message in this to employers is twofold. First, don’t begrudge your employee their vacation. They may very likely come back a bit rejuvenated and who knows may have a creative solution to something they have been working on. Secondly, encourage daydreaming, especially those of you that deal in intellectual capital. Daydreaming is the fountain of creativity and creativity is an essential part of your intellectual capital creation.
Now, sshhh….don’t bother me I am being creative…
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