September 20, 2018

When was the last time you caught yourself daydreaming?

Maybe you daydreamed for the duration of your commute, so much that you can’t even remember exactly how you managed to get to work. I know that I spend a lot of time daydreaming about things I’m excited about in the future—an upcoming DJ gig, or a big presentation I have to give. But even though these daydreams are positive overall, I find my mind falling into a spiral of guilt after the fact. I could have spent that time writing this story…I should have been paying attention to what that person said… Lots of could haves and should haves.

We all do it, and some studies say that we spend as much as 50% of our waking lives daydreaming. That’s a lot of time to spend doing something that many people would consider to be a time suck—a phrase that Merriam Webster recently added as an official word.

But what if instead of feeling guilty or like we could have better used our time, we allowed ourselves to use this natural inclination of our minds to drift as a productivity tool?

Recent studies have shown a correlation between mind wandering and creativity—not shocking, I’m sure, but all the more validating especially when I consider how long it takes me to write a short story or come up with creative ideas.

Most of my best ideas come when I’m not even thinking about the task at hand, when I’m simply allowing my mind to wander. This is actually because the same part of my brain that is responsible for sending me into aimless thought, is also responsible for where my creativity comes from. The same is true for you, too.

Most of my best ideas come when I’m not even thinking about the task at hand, when I’m simply allowing my mind to wander.

That’s just one of the ways daydreaming can actually work against the notion of being a time suck. There are a few other ways that you can tap into to help you be more productive, even in non-creative instances.

Daydreams as Manifestations

You’ve probably heard a lot of folks (see: millennials) talk about how they’re working on “manifesting” or “actualizing dreams” and maybe you’ve wondered how exactly this works, and why there’s so much hype. There are lots of ways to practice manifesting, and daydreaming is one great way to do so.

If you think about something you want enough that you’re able to visualize it, it’s likely to make its way into your daydreams. This act of mind wandering can actually be quite intentional—after all, it’s not like we’re actually dreaming without any control, we’re still conscious of what’s happening around us when our minds drift off.

I often find myself daydreaming about things I really want, and I’ve found it to be a very powerful visualization tool. Maybe next time you find yourself daydreaming, tie in a bit of intention by allowing your mind to wander down a specific future path, whether that means visualizing yourself in a job you really want or acing that presentation you have to give next week.

Next time you find yourself daydreaming, tie in a bit of intention by allowing your mind to wander down a specific future path.

Feeling Stuck? Take a Mental Break

Sometimes the best thing you can do when facing a problem that you aren’t able to solve is walk away and give yourself a break. Allowing your mind to wander in these moments is healthy and can be done in many different ways.

You could try going for a nature walk, simply allowing your mind to be taken by the surrounding nature, and allowing your daydreams to be a bit more mindful with a dose of fresh air. I did this exact thing today while brainstorming new company names for a client. After a certain point, we both realized that our brains had been focusing for too long, and we needed the space to allow for new ideas to generate. I chose to take a break and get myself some lunch, and not think about the task that I had been trying to solve just moments before.

Taking a mental break is a great way to let yourself return to the issue at hand with a fresh pair of eyes, and maybe even a new perspective.

Mindfully Welcome Distractions

Our brains receive a dose of dopamine whenever we complete a task, which is great when we’re working on one task at a time. But in today’s world of constant stimulation and fast paced work days, multitasking is often a requirement, and our brains natural inclination is to want to complete every task at once.

Unfortunately, that is impossible, which is why we can find ourselves procrastinating with just about anything else besides the task that needs to be done. But as I mentioned in a previous article about knowing better and doing better, procrastination has become my friend, now that I know it’s what I need to complete a task. And daydreaming is one way to procrastinate.

Rasmus Hougaard, coauthor of One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work With Mindfulness says that the key to not falling victim to our distractions (and in this case, daydreams) is to remember that you are in control of focusing or letting go. You are in control of whether or not the distraction is worth giving five minutes vs. one hour of your attention.

You are in control of focusing or letting go.

If you start thinking of the time you spend drifting from the present moment as time that is mindfully allotted, you might feel more in control, and as a result, avoid feelings of guilt that may follow.

Read next: When Distraction Is a Good Thing)

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