Working without downtime kills productivity

You surely have heard sayings like: “You need quiet time for a creative mind.” This simple advice, is easier said than done. In today’s modern world everyone seems to be moving fast. We occupy and pre-occupy ourselves with work. Then, when not otherwise busy, we engross ourselves in our mobile devices with often unfocused activities. Some may have a feeling that quiet time is needed to improve life but it’s hard to do while others may not even recognize there’s a problem.  

Leaders in your credit union should appreciate that perpetual busyness does not mean greater productivity. There is a wealth of data that shows that working for too long reduces returns in productivity and increases costs related to health and emotions. The brain demands downtime to remain productive and generate innovative ideas. Stillness of the mind is indispensable for gaining perspective and creative thinking. Creating quiet time at one point during the day, gives your mind the chance to make unexpected connections, provide new inspirations, and contribute to overall well-being.

Consider the example of one of the most creative minds of the 20th century, Albert Einstein.  According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of the great physicist, Einstein would pass hours alone just thinking, often during long walks in nature or sailing on his boat. It was usually during these serene moments when he was alone and quiet that creative and novel solutions to difficult problems would come to him.

Neurological observations on the workings of the brain, show that quiet time becoming creative time is not by chance or unique to a genius like Einstein. Cognitive neuroscience research examining creativity shows the importance of downtime to creativity. Dr. Roger Beaty at Penn State led an international team of researchers that identified patterns of brain connectivity associated with novel idea generation. While relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not stop working. Many important processes are occurring when the mind is not occupied with a task. A neural network called the default mode network (DMN) is engaged. In this resting state, the brain still consumes about 20% of the body’s energy production, and when the brain is deep in concentration, it uses only 5-10% more energy than in the DMN state. Beaty found that creative thoughts emerged when the DMN was engaged with other select areas of the brain associated with focus and memory. What may seem to you like moments of being lost in thought, can actually be times of being most alive and most productive, where creative insights and innovation occur.

What should leaders and managers do with this important information, and how should any employee find space in the day to be more creative? As with Einstein, unstructured time allows inventive innovative thoughts to occur. Daydreams can be most creative with an intentional mindset. As the work of Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford illuminates in her important work on the growth mindset, the underlying belief system guiding thought affects the results. A mindset where one believes that they are capable of using downtime as a chance for creativity can turn “wasted time” into a time of reflection, contemplation and creation. This is a quiet state of thought-full being. Insights can result from taking the time to meditate or a quiet walk in a pleasant setting, close to nature if possible, which can provide opportunities for insights and creativity.

Can your credit union help your employees find some quiet time?  Providing an opportunity to relax with downtime, may be one of the best actions leaders and employees can do to boost productivity and the feeling of overall well-being.

Stuart R. Levine

Stuart R. Levine

Founded in 1996, Stuart Levine & Associates LLC is an international strategic planning and leadership development company with focus on adding member value by strengthening corporate culture. SL&A ... Web: Details