During the lead-up to nearly every major event or holiday — the Super Bowl, the Oscars, Thanksgiving — a swell of media reports describe how people’s preoccupation with the event causes lost productivity. Last year, for example, consultants Challenger Gray & Christmas estimated that college basketball’s March Madness may cost nearly $2 billion in lost productivity as people focus on the brackets for office pools.
However, as Jonah Lehrer points out in the Wall Street Journal, that tendency toward distraction isn’t all bad. For some people, it’s actually essential for creative problem solving:
Sometimes, too much focus can backfire; all that caffeine gets in the way. For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity — people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “Internet leisure browsing” and that people unable to concentrate due to severe brain damage actually score above average on various problem-solving tasks.
So if your boss complains about those Lolcats on your screen, cite the research. The truth is that downtime is essential to both productivity and creativity — at least until the robots take over.
Read Lehrer’s full story here.