This post originally ran on Inc.com, where Rocketrip’s CEO Dan Ruch has a regular column on travel, technology, and entrepreneurship.
We all love to maximize downtime by turning it into productivity, like getting work done while on the road, but how many of us actively seek out downtime--that is, essentially, time doing nothing--and view it as a form of productivity?
When it comes to ambitious businesspeople and entrepreneurs, doing nothing doesn't usually make the list of most successful habits. We exist in a world that is more about running on 3-4 hours of sleep, checking emails in the elevator, and seeking out whatever hotel offers the fastest WiFi.
Productivity is measured by tangible results, which we can get more of if we maximize our time. We juggle multiple deadlines and our personal life, aiming to hit some type of balance that works well. But what if, in an effort to maximize every possible moment of our day, we are actually overtaxing our brain and rendering ourselves less productive?
As we cram more tasks into our day, our ability to execute those tasks effectively declines. Though we may recognize that getting some sleep is occasionally necessary, we're missing out on a precious key ingredient for brain power: silence.
Viewing nothing as a task
The creative marketing experts that came up with Finland's catchy 2011 campaign, highlighting silence as the big attraction, may have been onto something.
A study published through the National Library of Medicine found that exposure to prolonged silence can actually cause the brain to produce new cells. According to the study, being exposed to a certain amount of silence per day prompts cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses.
Now imagine what that could do for mustering up creativity and original ideas. The study's puzzling results showed that the total absence of input had more of a pronounced effect than any sort of input tested.
When it comes to downtime, this may be the perfect opportunity to think outside the box. It's suggested that 2 hours of uninterrupted silence can cause new cell growth to occur in the brain. Coincidentally, travel delays and airport wait times can often be as long as 2 hours (or more, in many cases).
The next layover you encounter could be the perfect time to test the theory. Find the perfect secluded spot in the airport, like a lounge or an empty gate, then carve out some time to daydream. Imagine all the extra brain cells you will have developed by the time you're done thinking about that beach house in the Hamptons or the hiking trail in Mozambique.
Prevention over repair
Time management and efficiency are essential to success. But we also need to be able to incorporate different tools that are going to boost our productivity and creativity.
Research tells us that downtime is essential to mental processes; that when resting, our brains are anything but idle. When people engage in wakeful rest, allowing their mind to wander, they are able to slip into a default mode of neural processing, which can increase mental health and cognitive abilities.
If we shift our thinking--or out of thinking--we can begin to view downtime in a different way and capitalize on opportunities for productive silence. After all, it's easier to prevent burnout than to recover from it.
So the next time you're waiting for your flight, whip out your noise cancelling headphones and forgo the music--let your brain get some repair work done. Who knows, maybe you'll even get into the habit of planning blank days.