Scientists Have Figured Out the Best Way to Goof Around at Work

You’re going to procrastinate anyway, but here’s how to make it work for you


Working is hard. Staying focused for long periods of time on thinking or lifting or whatever it is that you do, without breaks, takes a toll. Procrastinating, meanwhile, is awesome. You’re procrastinating right now, aren’t you? It’s the best.

It’s the best, that is, until your boss catches you and you get in trouble. But the next time that happens just point them here and let them know that science has your back. Procrastinating, it seems, actually makes you a better worker—more creative, more dynamic, more of all the things modern middle managers want to hear. Procrastination does all these things if you procrastinate properly.

So…how do you procrastinate properly?

According to Amy Reichelt, a neuropsychologist at the University of New South Wales, we procrastinate because some little reward now—seeing the likes on that photo we just put on Facebook—outweighs a bigger, more important reward later. She says that this is basically just who we are, so run with it:

There are a variety of techniques to help people work effectively and minimise distractions and procrastination.

The Pomodoro technique, for instance, breaks work sessions into manageable 25-minute slots, allowing a small reward at the end, such as five minutes access to Facebook or a short coffee break.

Then you have to return to another 25 minutes of work; the technique can aid productivity across the whole day.

But according to Greg Beato writing for Nautilus, if you really want to make your procrastination sing, you can’t just do anything you want with your five minutes of downtime. You need to find something simple to do, but you need to be doing something. According to a recent study that tested peoples’ creativity, says Beato,

“The most surprising result of the study was that the non-demanding task was actually better than doing nothing,” Schooler says. Why this is so, however, is less clear. “My best guess is that if you’re engaged in a non-demanding task, it kind of prevents you from having long trains of thought,” Schooler posits. “It’s sort of churning things up, stirring the pot, so you’re not maintaining one thought for a particularly long time. There are a lot of different ideas going in and out, and that sort of associative process leads to creative incubation.”

Looking out the window: bad. Poking around on YouTube: good.

“So what kinds of distractions, exactly, are best?” says Beato. ““You want a distractor that’s pretty far away from what you want to process unconsciously,” Bursley says. If you want your brain to unconsciously process a math problem, it would be better to have the distractor be something totally different, like playing tennis, he says, rather than something similar, like a spatial puzzle.”

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