Slack Off a Bit this Summer. It’s Science.

By: Naomi Matlow

When your office for the day is a Parisian cafe or a Balinese yoga shala, it is hard to feel motivated to knock items off of your to-do list and reduce that unread email list in your inbox. This familiar dilemma of when to work and when to play can undoubtedly arise more frequently for digital nomads or freelancers, often tempted by new surroundings and a deep desire to explore something new everyday. 

For a growing number of us in the 21st century who work in multiple freelance positions (this will be over 50% of the American workforce by 2027!), time itself becomes even more of a bankable commodity. As artist and writer Jenny Odell writes in her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, “In a situation where every waking moment has become the time in which we make our living… time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on ‘nothing.’” But as Jenny continues to write in her book, and as so many writers, educators, and researchers are expressing today, the time we take for reflection, rest, and play is far from nothing. In fact, it is in these moments when we stop working where we find who we really are and all that what we can offer.  

Did you know that science shows us that slacking off can make us more productive? There is no arguing that when we are relaxed and in a good mood, we knock things off of our to-do list quicker and to greater satisfaction. Wonder why you get your best problem solving done in the shower or while you’re exercising? According to neuroscientist Alice Flaherty, a relaxing shower or stress-reducing workout releases dopamine, which is essential to creativity. Acts of relaxing the mind, or “slacking off”, are in fact productive. Like so many things in life, productivity cannot always be measured and is often invisible to the eye. 

The old adage “work hard, play hard” can easily be turned around. If you give yourself the opportunity to relax and play, your dopamine levels will increase, ultimately allowing you to tackle your work faster, with more energy, and more efficiently (and maybe even happier). Jessica Stilman for Inc. writes, “Banning yourself from pleasure before you’ve cleared your plate at work isn’t being responsible, according to this latest science, it’s just your brain playing tricks on you.” 

So let’s change our perceptions of productivity and play. Maybe “slacking off” is not turning anything off, but “turning on” our creativity. So whether you’re a freelancer or not, a 9-5er or not, treat yourself to some time for yourself this summer (and then carry it over all year round). Your work, and most importantly, your mind and body, will thank you. 

For some structured time Unsettled, check out where we’re spending time both “off” and “on” this year! 

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