The business case for switching off – why it works and how to do it

Ever noticed that you often have your best thoughts in the shower? Find out why this happens, and why you need to switch off to be MORE creative and productive. 

They’re known as ‘shower thoughts’, those seemingly random thoughts or ideas that occur when taking our morning shower – or engaged in a similarly monotonous task.

Often amusing but inconsequential, (a quick Google search of the term throws up an array of weird and wonderful examples), these unexpected insights can sometimes prove useful. Indeed, people report sudden creative breakthroughs, remembering the location of a long lost item and even figuring out the answer to a complex work problem.

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In fact, the idea that the brain can produce its best work when ostensibly ‘switched off’ is actually backed up by science.

Our brains don’t slow down when we switch off

Studies have shown that the daydreaming brain is actually incredibly active, engaged in a whole host of vital mental processes. The theory goes that, when people are engaged in relatively monotonous tasks, the brain becomes free to make new associations between seemingly unconnected ideas.

This can lead to epiphanies that seem to come from nowhere but are actually the result of a whole host of unconscious mental activity.

In other words, even when we think we’re switched off our brains don’t really slow down at all. Instead, they are busy replenishing our reserves of mental and physical energy, which in turn increases our productivity and  attention, solidifies our memories and encourages creativity – all vital attributes in the world of work.

How do we squeeze ‘downtime’ into a full working day?

Cultivating innovation and fresh thinking in the workplace has never been more critical to being competitive, driving growth and maintaining a happy and productive workforce.

So how do we reconcile this with the traditional working day, with its expectation for employees to be sitting at the same desk for eight solid hours, often not even pausing for lunch?

One of the more radical solutions put forward has been to allow time and space for employee ‘nap’ times. It has been scientifically proven that a nap of just 30 minutes can improve concentration, creativity and feelings of relaxation.

Our centre in Vijzelstraat has teamed up with COCO-MAT to create the Recharge Room, which is furnished with daybeds and designed to give workers a dedicated nap space.

Of course this may not be practical for many companies, but businesses are exploring plenty of other options. For example, offering fitness or meditation classes, encouraging workers to get outside into nature, or simply encouraging regular breaks can be just as restorative.

The modern workspace needs to be designed for downtime

Such a change in attitude will certainly have implications for the workplace. As more enlightened employers encourage their staff to take regular ‘downtime’, the less appropriate the traditional office model will become.

Instead, the modern workspace must be designed to accommodate the requirement for a range of different working styles within one area, meeting the needs of both the companies and the people who work for them. This includes space to work at a desk, space for meetings and collaboration, and space to simply sit, think and enable creativity.

The most important thing is that periods of downtime are encouraged – even mandated – for employees, giving them that all important space to recharge. By doing so, employers will create the right environment for the generation of ideas and better business planning – to the benefit of both staff and business alike.

Three ways to encourage your staff to switch off

So if downtime is so important, how can you encourage your staff to make use of it? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Be proactive – consider proactively offering activities that staff can do to take a break from work. This could include fitness or meditation classes, or whole office lunchtime walks (or jogs).
  2. Lead by example – if you’re a business owner or manager, make sure you are seen to be actively taking downtime to encourage your staff or team to follow suit.
  3. Create the right environment – your office may not be ready for a company nap room just yet, but you can still create dedicated space for relaxation within the workspace. Think comfy sofas, soothing colours and some books or artwork to help employees switch off from work.

Richard Morris is CEO of Spaces, creative working environments with a unique entrepreneurial spirit.