The place for Postbox news and product updates.

December 21st, 2010

Start Daydreaming and Get to Work

Stop reading this post and go back to what you were doing. Better yet, stop thinking about what you were doing and concentrate on this post. Aw, the hell with it - go take a nap.

Neuroscientists and productivity experts have spent the last few years busting the myth of multitasking. Humans can't do it, we're told. Try to do a few things at the same time and you'll perform poorly on all of them. To make matters worse, some writers and researchers have suggested that our 21st-century flitting from Google search to Facebook post to e-mail message is sapping our ability to concentrate (the "internet is making us stupid" argument.) Productivity comes from focusing on one task at a time, we're told. Lose focus and output suffers.

Now it looks like concentration may be over-rated. Neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer writes about the importance of letting your mind wander. Lehrer, author of the best-selling "How We Decide," has written about research into writer's block, inability to recall facts and constraints on creativity.

It seems that with some tasks, more-focus, trying harder and chugging coffee leads to a cognitive log jam. Shifting into what brain researchers call a "resting state network" can often break through the block.

In fact, staring out the window may even make you smarter. Lehrer writes about a paper by two MIT researchers on links between "resting state activity" (daydreaming) and intelligence. It looks like insight and creativity require communication between relatively distant parts of the brain. And daydreaming seems to improve the mind's ability to link those regions.

"One of the simplest ways to foster creativity, then, may be to take daydreams more seriously," writes Lehrer.