The importance of downtime and what it does for productivity

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

As you well know, our business philosophy is one that nurtures a culture of innovation. We achieve this by encouraging diversity, collaboration, and human-centered design. In the way that we do our work, a lot of our efforts are centered on simplifying things.

If you subscribe to this philosophy, you can’t do without having free thinkers in your team. If you don’t have that yet, there are ways to make your existing team think more freely. You will find that certain methods – or hacks if you would – are incredibly transformational for your organization’s culture. Ideation is the way to go in design thinking, and it’s quite interesting that an individual’s productivity can be increased with some downtime.

Downtime is a total detachment from anything that requires your brain to do processing work. Later we’ll have a whole article that’s more dedicated to discussing what downtime is and what it is not. For this piece, let’s talk about how downtime correlates with productivity.

Einstein’s dream

Albert Einstein, the historical figure who was literally propelled to popularity because of his free-thinking, is a very interesting subject. Not many people know that the Theory of Relativity, which is exclusively credited to him, was conjured while he was sleeping.

In Einstein’s dream, he saw a number of cows jumping at the same time as a surrounding fence gave out an electric shock. But a farmer was looking at the same thing and what he saw was that the cows jumped one by one. Einstein imagined that it was possible for two people to perceive the exact same event differently, which is precisely what opened him to the premise of the theory. The Theory of Relativity rests on the idea that events look different depending on where you’re standing because of the time it takes for light to reach the eyes.

What the science says

With the prevailing “go-hard” culture that compels us to keep in step with the competition in a very fast-paced environment, things like laziness and boredom are frowned upon. These two are strongly associated with having a poor work attitude and a lack of motivation. But the science says that they are helpful in enabling you to recalibrate so that your brain gets a fresh start. When your brain achieves this state, that’s when the ideas come in. It really isn’t surprising that Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity while he was dreaming.

According to an article published by The Scientific American, when the brain undergoes downtime or any similar activity that requires little brain processing (such as sleeping, meditation, walking in nature, etc.,), you can expect to replenish your attention, solidify your memories, and encourage your creativity.

In fact, there is a concept called sleep-storming, which is also understood as structured unconscious generative ideation. You can literally brainstorm while you sleep. While the experts say that it’s helpful for you to write down the details of your dream on a piece of paper, there isn’t an exact method that leads you into ideation.

What we know is that the human brain is one extremely amazing piece of work. And tons of literature prove how ample downtime can result in great ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise access in “go-hard” mode.

Productivity in the context of ideation means that you have an active imagination – the kind that allows you to create solutions that are novel and truly make sense to have in the environment we’re in today.

Parker Lee

Parker Lee is the managing partner of Territory, a design consultancy, who has developed and led teams in transformation, design thinking, and business development for decades. Co-author of The Art of Opportunity, he has created and facilitated dozens of design and visual thinking engagements.

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