A Little Idleness Can Actually Be Productive, According to New Study

Reuters/Catherine BensonA generic picture of a woman working in an office sitting at her desk typing on a computer.

In today's fast-paced life, individuals have been taught from school to work the value of productivity and the importance of achieving goals. To do this, one has to have laser precision focus on the task and be "in the zone" constantly. Pressure is added by the challenge of beating the competition.

This never-ending pursuit of increasing output and doing more led to the coining of the term multitasking which roughly means to do two things at the same time. Busy office workers can be seen taking calls while working on the computer even though there are questions about the effectiveness of this method.

For Dr. Muireann Irish, multitasking is a misnomer. No two tasks can be performed effectively at the same time as this comes with attentional cost. A person on the computer can't perform as effectively while he is on the phone. If he focuses on his work, he will miss out on many important instructions given to him by the person on the other line.

Irish also doesn't subscribe to today's standard of productivity which he said is measured in a metric focused way. "We are viewing it more as outputs and getting rungs on the board rather than sometimes viewing it as the quality of the output itself," he told Huffington Post.

For the associate professor of Sydney University's School of Psychology and Brain, and Mind Center, it is fine to lose focus once in a while and be lost in thought. He prescribes mind-wandering or the tendency to have thoughts unrelated to one's work. Scientists are uncovering the advantages of being mentally unfocused in performing work.

A York University behavioral and neuroimaging study gave participants cognitive tasks. They were also made to write down their goals with interruptions in between. The test revealed that mind-wandering is useful in thinking and planning about one's future goals.

"Because we are not focusing on one particular thing, we actually free up and loosen associations between different concepts and constructions," Irish explained. "It has been found that these periods of incubation are where ideas or solutions can come together in creative and flexible ways," he added.