Walk It Off, Structured Downtime for Productivity

Working all day is hard – so don’t do it. In many desk jobs one doesn’t need to be there from 9-5, indeed we can be more productive by not being there. More evidence keeps cropping up that we are animals that need exercise and a diversity of daily experiences.

Going for a walk mid-afternoon might be just what you need. It’s easy, just get up and do it.

And structured downtime doesn’t just help the world’s greatest writers and thinkers do their best work; it helps all of us while we’re learning and striving to achieve tasks. Or at least it would, if someone told us how important it actually is. “We spend from 12 to 16 years of our lives in formal education institutions. And yet, we’re never given any kind of real formal instruction on how to learn effectively,” says Oakley. “It’s mindboggling, isn’t it?”

In fact, suggests Oakley, there are some very simple techniques and insights that can make you way better at learning—insights based on modern cognitive neuroscience. The most central is indeed this idea that while you obviously have to focus your cognitive energies in order to learn something (or write something, or read something, or to memorize something), that’s only part of what counts. In addition to this “focused mode”—which relies on your brain’s prefrontal cortex—we also learn through a “diffuse mode,” rooted in the operations of a variety of different brain regions. In fact, the brain switches back and forth between these modes regularly. (For those familiar with Daniel Kahneman’s famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the diffuse mode would be analogous to Kahneman’s “System 1,” and the focused mode to “System 2.”)

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