Michelle Rodger: Cheer up, experts say it’s ok to be a daydream believer

Share this article
Have your say

WE’RE all guilty of letting our minds wander to varying degrees, but it’s surprising to discover that half our working day is lost to daydreaming.

Scientists at Harvard University have surveyed 250,000 people and concluded they spend 46.9 per cent of their time awake with their minds wandering. The research also suggested that minds wander, even from demanding tasks, at least 30 per cent of the time.

One of the researchers, Dr Matthew Killingsworth, said mind wandering appears “ubiquitous” across all activities.

“This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present,” he said.

You might think the idea that we spend nearly half our waking and working hours without thinking about what we are doing is worrying. I think it’s an opportunity – it suggests a potential 50 per cent increase in output, if we can focus that daydreaming into something positive.

Chris Griffiths is chief executive of Think Buzan. He launched a book last week called GRASP The Solution, a guide to making decisions and solving problems creatively. According to Griffiths, many of the world’s greatest minds reached moments of brilliance through the act of daydreaming: Sir Isaac Newton and his discovery of gravity, Thomas Edison and his numerous inventions, Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity.

Griffiths says Einstein was outspoken about his love of daydreaming – or what he called his “thought experiments”. He even credited these “experiments” for giving him the ideas that led to his greatest works.

Austrian composer Mozart had his most creative moments in bed at night. He wrote to his father: “When I am completely myself, entirely alone or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on these occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how these come I know not and nor can I force them.”

Unfortunately, however, daydreaming doesn’t hold the same status in business as rational thinking. And as Griffiths says, for most of us it’s simply out of bounds – most workplaces see it as a frivolous and time-wasting activity.

But he believes the tide is changing, and support for daydreaming as a tool for creativity is growing all the time.

Even scientists have begun to swing in favour of it, with more and more studies proving that our brains are more active when we’re daydreaming than when we’re engaged in vigorous, conscious thought.

I know what you’re thinking, if daydreaming is such an effective tool for creativity, why don’t I – or my employees – generate genius ideas every day? Why haven’t we produced brilliant life-changing inventions? Why aren’t we more creative and innovative? Simply because we haven’t planned our daydreaming properly, we haven’t considered what we want to come up with idea for, and we haven’t given ourselves a goal.

Like anything in business, you need a plan. And then you need to discover what type of daydreaming – and where – works best for you.

Even something as simple as doing something different can spark a bunch of ideas. Gemma Went became aware of focused daydreaming when she was planning to start her own agency, Red Cube Marketing, four years ago.

She didn’t start out by saying she wanted to start her own business, it was the product of some creative daydreaming that launched within six months and went on to be a successful business. Being away from the usual grind, when she’s truly relaxed and being “her” again, marketing and social media consultant Went finds the creativity flows.

As a keen horse rider, the best ideas appear when she’s riding and feeling relaxed, although jotting them down in Evernote is a tad tricky on horseback.

Went’s ideas tend to be linked to a current issue, or other ideas and, like Griffiths, she says briefing yourself on the challenges at hand and allowing that to rattle around in your subconscious is key.

So next time you see someone gazing out the window rather than focusing on their computer screen, don’t rush to judge them – wait to see what ideas they generate before you question their productivity.