Why We Need To Structure Our Days Differently Than We Think
Ways To Optimize Brain Function and Your Life
Posted September 20, 2017
Once we get up, we are typically on a roll. We jump out of bed—complete our morning ablutions—do some cooking prep, maybe—slip into some clothes—grab a coffee—hop on the train or into the car—arrive at work—and grind away. Mid-morning sees the first energy drain, but lucky for us, coffee comes to the rescue. We eventually meet lunch with a deep sigh of relief, but after lunch, the uphill battle begins. The rest of the day is often either a drag or a wasteful distraction. Mid-afternoon draws our eyes to the clock with a longing for the day’s end. And just as our work days end, we have home life looming ahead. A relief, to be sure, but often filled with its own work and complications.
This automaton lifestyle may seem to get the job done, but in fact, it short-changes you more than you think. To make the best use of your brain, you really have to build short and frequent downtime—booster breaks—into it. And you have to make a habit of it for more than 2 months if you want it to stick. Let’s take a look at your objections and why you need to get over them.
1. “I just don’t have the time to build in frequent breaks”: Reality check—people spend 46.9% of their days daydreaming anyway. So you definitely have the time to daydream more effectively.
2. “How can daydreaming be effective?" I have a job that needs to get done”: Generally, daydreaming makes you miserable. But Jerome Singer has studied daydreams extensively, and he has made the point that not all daydreaming is the same. Slip into a daydream, or ruminate over the prior night’s indiscretions, and you will be sure to waste your time. But if you plan a 15-minute daydreaming time-out, then engage in some undemanding activity (knitting, gardening, or walking), and jumpstart your daydreaming with positive, wishful imagery (whatever floats your boat from tinkering underneath a car to laying on a yacht in the Mediterranean), you will likely become more creative, and more energized.
3. “Ok, so I buy the booster break idea. But exactly how crucial is this?” It turns out, it’s pretty crucial. Your brain occupies a mere 2% of your body’s volume, but it needs a lot of energy (20% of the body's energy, to be precise) to work, when it is rest. (“What? Why does resting it require so much energy?”) In the “idle” setting, your brain is doing some of its best and most important work. This is when it is putting puzzle pieces together, driving you toward your own eureka experiences, unjumbling information, re-energizing your focus, activating memories, and also helping you stay self-connected.
4. “What does self-connection have to do with anything? It sounds bogus anyway. I know how I am” Once again, “knowing” is overrated. Most of what is going on in your brain is unconscious—you don’t actually “know” this. Yet, unconscious though it is, it matters. You are far more than your LinkedIn profile. There are subtle elements of you that really matter—they stabilize your every action. These subtle elements of self are registered in the unfocus circuit. When you unfocus, your brain has time to put together subtle elements of who you are. Keep going like an energizer bunny, and you rob yourself of this richer experience of yourself.
5. “Okay, so I’m not going to daydream. Anything else I can do that doesn’t feel like a waste of time?” Actually, what is a waste of time is running on empty. You can’t go far without gas in the tank. What makes you think your brain doesn’t need an energy boost? I’ not just talking about “vegging out” here—I’m talking about strategic rest.
You need 1-4 hours of clarity after lunch? Then nap for 5-15 minutes. That will do the trick. Think you might die of boredom on a conference call? Try doodling. It has been shown to increase memory by 29%. Feeling stuck and can’t find your way out? Try embodying the personality of a more creative person. It will help you escape your own mental traps and find a way out of your habit hell.
6. “Okay, so I’m ready, but how do I not seem like a slouch at work?” Share this research. I’ve written an entire book on why your rest time is your best time. Educate people about this. Google, Uber, Zappos and PwC all allow napping at work for a reason. Show them other peoples’ writing on the subject too.
7. “How do I get started-without overwhelming myself with guilt?” Choose just one 15-minute period in your day when you’d be in a natural daze anyway. Then use one of these techniques to see if you become sharper, more creative and more able to make it through your day.
You are worth this investment, even if, like many of us, you’ve been duped to think otherwise.