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Break Me Off a Piece of That…..!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

We’ve all had those “A-Ha” moments when a solution to a problem pops in our head at some random time, usually when you’re not even thinking about it, or some random song comes on the radio that you’ve heard a 1000x and it’s driving you nuts that you can’t remember the name of, only later while you’re brushing your teeth or cleaning your windows that it pops in your head.  

♬Take on me (take on me)
Take me on (take on me)
I'll be gone
In a day or two♬   

“Oh I remember now….”   

Many times this problem solving or creativeness come from stepping away, clearing your mind…much like my colleague Brian suggests by getting away and taking a walk.  Good idea Brian!

It’s no surprise many moments of clarity or creativity come to people while showering. Showering is one of those times when you stop reading, watching, and are alone. Your mind becomes bored and begins to wander, and it’s these moments of your brain’s stillness and boredom that can generate new ideas you likely fail to find while in the office or facing some challenge at home.

I don’t want to bore you with the physiology of our brain but stepping away has everything to do with how our brain functions.  The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is just behind the forehead. It has many jobs, one being to focus on what you’re working on, as well as searching and merging interesting information you have stored in your brain.  This searching and merging by your brain allows you to solve problems and come up with creative ideas.  But as complex and amazing our brain is, if we overwork the PFC and it stays too focused, then it has a difficult time with searching and merging of information you have stored and coming up with new fresh ideas to your problems.  When you take a break, then your PFC is freed up to go searching and combining.

Interestingly, there is research (not sure how scientific it is) that is looking into when to take your break.  One recent article (found here) discusses that people taking off on Fridays to have a 3-day weekend is not the best way to have a day off, rather it is suggested to take Wednesdays off.  To quote portions of the article:

“Our human experience of time is ordered by 'pacers,' both internal (like being a 'morning person' or a 'night owl') and external, like the work week or a deadline,…”
“One of the reasons Mondays are difficult for so many of us, for instance, is that our internally determined "weekend rhythm" comes crashing into the externally defined rhythm of work.” 
"A Wednesday holiday interrupts the externally imposed pacer of work, and gives you a chance to rediscover your internal rhythms for a day. While a long weekend gives you a little more time on your own schedule, it doesn't actually disrupt the week's pacing power. A free Wednesday builds space on either side, and shifts the balance between your pace and work's--in your favor,...”

Taking a break to walk, meditate, or even an impromptu day off is great to do!  Just remember, when you do get away to do nothing, it might turn out to be your best work yet!


 Derek O'Sullivan, CFM is a Senior Project Specialist at HCE and in his prior capacity as the Assistant Director to the Will County Stormwater Management Planning Committee, he was charged with implementing the County-wide Stormwater program.