Leaders, Russian Literature & Ping-Pong: The Value of Daydreaming

In a soon to be published paper in Psychological Science written by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California at Santa Barbara state, “creative solutions may be facilitated specifically by simple external tasks that maximize mind-wandering.”

In other words, daydreaming may help you solve complicated problems.

In a series of tests Baird and Schooler gave students tasks that required inventive problem solving skills. When the students were given a break half of them were told to sit and do nothing while the other half were given a tedious task–like reading  a dry passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

When the break was over the group that had free time performed worse then the group who were told to complete monotonous chores. Why?

Those that were given a boring job were driven to daydreaming. They let their minds idle, wander, and explore whereas the group that had all the free time in the world busied themselves with more proactive thoughts.

To the researchers surprise the mind lost in daydreams isn’t lazy. In fact, it’s busy subconsciously untangling large, looming problems. As Jonah Lehrer of the New Yorker points out, this is the very reason why Silicon Alley businesses have so many ping-pong tables. Ping-pong, played leisurely, helps the mind wander while it addresses larger, more complex problems. It encourages productive daydreaming.

With this in mind, leaders need not feel guilty if they want to tuck into a bit of Tolstoy instead of checking their emails before bed. Taking time to yourself and allowing your mind to wander can help you figure out looming problems.

As an aside, if you’d like a ping-pong table at work, show this article to your boss.

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