- In a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83% of respondents said they spent no time during the day relaxing or thinking.
- Idle time is not wasted time; for the brain to thrive, you can’t spend all your time working or thinking about work.
- If your brain doesn’t get a chance to full rest and restore itself, your mood, performance, and health suffer.
Taking time off isn’t just beneficial, it’s necessary for your health and wellbeing. Science even says so.
While taking time off is often a much-needed reprieve from a hectic work life, research also shows that it is important for your health.
Many people do focused brain exercises to help develop their thinking. Regardless, the focus network in the brain is not the only network that needs training. The “unfocus” network needs training too, according to Harvard Health.
Idle time is not wasted time; for the brain to thrive, you can’t spend all your time working or thinking about work. Overwork leads to burnout, disengagement, and resignations.
Think of mental downtime as periods when you’re not actively focusing on and engaged in the outside world.
Our brains spend hours every day working and managing the constant streams of information and conversation that come at us from all directions. But if your brain doesn’t get a chance to chill and restore itself, your mood, performance, and health suffer.
Nowadays, it seems more employers are realizing the benefits of taking time off from work and how taking a break from work may in fact improve the productivity of their employees.
The human brain requires “downtime” – unstructured time with no goal in mind and no targeted focus of attention.
Here are some benefits of downtime
- Having creative insights
- Coming up with story ideas
- Allowing your brain to recharge
- Dissipating stress
In his book Elastic (about taking time off from work), Leonard Mlodinow said, “Though some may consider doing nothing unproductive, a lack of downtime is bad for our well-being, because idle time allows our default network to make sense of what we’ve recently experienced or learned.”
Allowing your brain to take frequent breaks has been shown to improve your motivation, decision-making skills, and memory and learning.
When you turn your “focus” brain off, it will retrieve memories and link ideas so that you become more creative, and also help you feel more self-connected as well.
Workers want and need time off to do nothing
In a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83% of respondents said they spent no time during the day relaxing or thinking. This is a worrying statistic because a lack of relaxing downtime leads to worsened health problems.
Studies have shown that 43% of employees in the UK would take a sabbatical to improve their mental health, while 32% would go on sabbatical to improve their physical health.
Science says we need time to let our brains fully rest
The human brain is actually designed to have regular rest periods. It has two main modes of processing; one is action-oriented and lets you concentrate on tasks, solve problems, and process incoming data (which is what you use when you’re working, watching TV, scrolling through social media or otherwise managing and making sense of information).
The second mode of processing is called the default mode network (DMN), and it switches on whenever your mind takes a break to wander inward. The DMN can switch on and off in the blink of an eye, research shows. But you can also be in it for hours.
Either way, spending time in your DMN every day is critical and extremely valuable.
“It creates rejuvenation in the brain, when you can chew on or consolidate information and make meaning out of what’s going on in your life. It helps you make sense of who you are, what actions to do next, and what things mean, and it’s linked to well-being, intelligence, and creativity,” said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., an associate professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute.
How can workers get time to do nothing?
- Take time off from work due to illness; both mental and physical
- Take time off from work to travel/sabbatical/career break
- Take personal days that you are entitled to
- Calculate how much annual leave you are entitled to so you can claim your well-deserved time off from work
While many workers view exercising, meditating, checking social media, or watching TV as downtime, those activities don’t actually allow your brain to fully rest. Even mediation requires too much focus.
Instead, to fully and completely do nothing, try taking a bath with no stimulants (such as music). Try lying in a grassy field, or sitting somewhere calm with no distractions so that your mind may fully relax.
No matter how busy you get, you should not sacrifice activities that really revitalize you, or skip vacations or days off.
“The key is to stop thinking that downtime is a luxury that’s taking away from your productivity. When you invest in downtime to consolidate information and construct meaning out of your life, you charge back into your day-to-day rejuvenated and more strategic about what you want to accomplish,” said Immordino-Yang.