Neuroscience provides a Creative Hack for Productivity

Researchers are finding that daydreaming actually has positive effects on the function of our brain.

Here are a few studies:


A study done by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler of the University of California at Santa Barbara was published in the journal Psychological Science. They asked participants to take “unusual uses” test. This meant conceptualizing alternative ways of using everyday objects, such as egg cartons for two minutes. Participants performed two sessions and then were given a 12 minute break. In this break they either rested, performed a demanding memory exercise or did a reaction time activity designed to maximize their mind-wandering.

When the test resumed, participants did four more “unusual uses” test, two of which were repeats. The group which had performed the mind-wandering tasks in the 12 minute break did 41% better on the re-tests than those who had focused on another mental exercise.


A study published in 2010 in the journal Neuron looked at memory consolidation. New York University neuroscientist Arielle Tambini wrote about how mind-wandering might play a vital function in helping us form memories.

Participants were asked to look at pairs of images and in between take breaks to think about anything they wanted. Researchers used fMRI to look at the activity in the hippocampus cortical regions of the brain while participants did both, look at images and let their mind wander. What researchers found was that the two areas of the brain appeared to work together, and the greater the levels of brain activity in both, the stronger the subjects’ recall of the image pairing was. Your brain continues working for you even when you are resting. Resting is therefore important for memory and cognitive function. Taking a coffee break at work in between your projects can actually help you retain the information you just learned.


Researcher Jonathan Smallwood of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science published a journal in Psychological Science suggesting that  people who let their mind wander have a higher capacity for working memory. Working memory is what allows us to think about multiple things at once, and has been shown to be linked with intelligence.


Participants were asked to press a button and as they went researchers checked in to see if their minds were wandering. After the task was completed, researchers gave participants a measure of their working memory. They found that participants were more frequent mind-wanders during the first task showed a greater capacity of their working memory.

From an evolutionary standpoint, mind-wandering seems very counterproductive and has even been viewed as dysfunctional because it comprises people’s performance in physical activities.  However, as per the research above, letting your mind wander when considering complex problems can have real benefits. Walking away and daydreaming for a bit and then coming back to the problem can give you a fresh and creative way to solve it. It can also help you with multitasking in other areas of your life.


How to:

You can implement this in your own life in a few different ways. If you are in the office and need a break from the project you are working on, then follow these steps.

Step 1 – Go to the search engine of your choice and search for a picture of something you have always wanted to do. Such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.

Step 2 – Focus on the picture for a couple of minutes,

Step 3 – Now close your eyes and imagine yourself there. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What you would be wearing?
  • What is the weather and how it feels on your skin? Be as detailed as possible.
  • What emotions are your feeling in this moment?
  • Who else is there with you?
  • Picture and describe the landscape in detail to yourself.
  • If you want to take this a step further, and we highly recommend you do. Put on some space music. We recommend Digitally Imported channel Space Dreams. This will really help you get in the zone and drift off to wherever you want to be.



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