Ever have one of those days when you show up to work in the physical sense, but your brain is a million miles away? Maybe you can't stop daydreaming about your upcoming weekend or vacation, or maybe your head is in the clouds for seemingly no reason at all. The good news is that your daydream session might not be as detrimental to your work as you think – it might even help you solve a problem.
A 2009 University of British Columbia (UBC) study found that when we daydream, our brains are more active than previously thought. In fact, the parts of the brain associated with complex problem solving are very active during daydreaming sessions. So don't let anyone tell you that letting your mind wander at work is always a bad thing.
"Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness," said lead author Kalina Christoff, Ph.D., UBC Deptartment of Psychology. "But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks."
Considering that it's Friday afternoon and my brain is already anticipating the weekend, this information couldn't come at a better time. And when I feel my mind drift a bit, I'll remember that we apparently spend up to a third of our waking lives daydreaming. When we're in this important cognitive state, we might unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through our most important problems.
In fact, if you're struggling to solve a complicated problem, you might well served to change to a simpler task and let your mind roam free.
"When you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal – say, reading a book or paying attention in class – but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships," said Christoff.
Now, researchers didn't mention the safety implications involved when a construction worker starts to daydream while working at height. Safety must always come first, daydream or no. But for those of us not currently engaged in high-risk work, a little reverie isn’t such a bad thing.
So go ahead and indulge those daydreams. If the boss asks you why you're staring into space with a dreamy expression on your face, be honest – say you're problem solving.