Brent Coker, who studies online behavior at the University of Melbourne in Australia, found that people who engage in “workplace Internet leisure browsing” are about 9 percent more productive than those who don’t. Last year, Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara published with his doctoral student Benjamin Baird a study called Inspired by Distraction. It concluded that “engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.”
At Nautilus, which publishes science stories based on a monthly theme, Greg Beato looks at a series of studies showing that wasting time while working can boost creativity—that is, if you waste time in a proper way. So what is the proper way?
“You want a distractor that’s pretty far away from what you want to process unconsciously,” Bursley says. If you want your brain to unconsciously process a math problem, it would be better to have the distractor be something totally different, like playing tennis, he says, rather than something similar, like a spatial puzzle.
In addition, Facebook is a bad way to waste time while working:
“When people take a break at work and get on Facebook, it becomes an ego-driven experience,” says Habra. “They see someone’s pictures from vacation, and they think, ‘Why isn’t that me? I wish I was on vacation too.’ ” If you want to get the most out of your time-wasting, stare at random YouTube babies, not the babies of your Facebook friends.
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