Making more time for downtime will help you stay sane, creative, and productive over the long term.

For the brain to thrive, you can’t spend all your time working. Human beings aren’t robots, and overwork leads to burnout, disengagement, and resignations. The brain also requires “downtime”—unstructured time with no goal in mind and no targeted focus of attention.

If true downtime means no goal and no focused attention, then watching a show on Netflix isn’t downtime because it requires focused attention. If anything, it’s closer to work than it is to downtime. Same goes for social media apps. Even going to the gym doesn’t qualify as downtime. When you run sprints or lift weights, you’re working toward a goal—and concentrating on what you’re doing. And that means it’s not downtime. Even mindfulness meditation doesn’t qualify, since it too requires focused attention. Meditation practices like mindfulness of the breath require you to place your focus on the present moment, training yourself to notice when your mind wanders.

Studies show that thinking relies on the coordination of two different brain networks, each with its own way of processing information.

The first is the task-positive network, also known as the central executive network. This is the goal-oriented part of your brain. It activates when you’re paying attention: making a decision, thinking through the solution to a problem, or using your working memory to make sense of new information.

The other is the default mode network, also known as the imagination network. This is the brain’s resting-state circuitry—the regions that come online when you’re not paying attention to anything in particular. This is what activates during downtime.

As it turns out, the imagination network is central to innovation and creativity. Studies show that creativity depends on the interaction of multiple cognitive processes, some of which are unconscious and occur only when we’re not focusing on a task.

Read more at Fast Company.

Thrive33: BUSINESS articles