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Finding productivity in daydreams

5 min read


Want to be more productive? Daydream.

When I was 6 years old, I remember my grandmother saying I was going to be a philosopher when I grew up. Apparently, I would spend hours happily looking outside a window daydreaming. One caveat to point out: This was in Pakistan in the 1970s, and there wasn’t anything good on TV!

Somewhere along the path toward my brilliant career as a philosopher, I lost my way and went to business school instead. Then I spent 20 years at Fortune 100 companies. There wasn’t much time for daydreaming, and it wasn’t exactly on our list of highly valued employee competencies.

About three years ago, I found myself fantasizing about what it would be like to spend my days doing exactly what I wanted, to spend my time doing work that was meaningful for me, to wake up and not be constrained by what I had to do but what I wanted to do. A year later, I mustered the courage to leave and start my company. Since then, I am hooked on daydreaming. Here’s why.

5 ways daydreaming makes us productive

  1. It fuels the imagination. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Daydreams have no limits. They fuel creativity by getting us into possibilities thinking. Imagine a world with no budget to stay within, no limit to what’s available in terms of resources. What would we create? This “what could be” is the source of all breakthrough ideas and innovation.
  2. It helps us achieve goals. Olympic athletes use the full sensory experience of what it would feel like to win to “play out” in their minds what they want to have happen. Research says that it helps their performance in a way that actual practice does. So daydream with your full senses: What is the smell, taste, feel, touch, look of you accomplishing your goals? I imagine people coming up to me after I do a talk telling me how much they were transformed by it. I imagine thousands of people commenting about what I’ve written (well, it’s my fantasy and, yes, that is a hint).
  3. It helps us solve complex problems. Brain-scan research shows that when we let our minds wander, they actually wander off to solve complex problems. Imagine that each of us has a “daydream virtual assistant,” or DVA. You delegate the problem to the assistant, and out pops a solution. It explains the reason some of us get our best ideas in the shower, or we need to “sleep on” issues. The good news is that our DVA is always available and doesn’t ask for raises or stock options.
  4. It makes us more empathetic. Studies suggest that those who daydream more often can be empathetic. Empathy has been shown to be an essential component of emotional intelligence and leadership.
  5. It connects us to our dreams. We are so often caught up in daily chores that we don’t stop to examine our life — our dreams, our leadership purpose, what makes our lives meaningful. For me, my daydreams reminded me of what I was yearning for. Following this path has made my life more productive because I am pursuing what I believe is truly my calling.

So how do we make room for daydreaming in our overly scheduled lives? Here are some ideas.

  1. Use commute time. Most of us try to be productive during our commutes. How about trying to be productive by daydreaming? Imagine your version of the perfect day, the perfect world, the perfect outfit, the perfect career, the perfect life. It comes to life only after we can imagine it.
  2. Proactively use it as a tool. When you have an important goal, create a “virtual reality sensory experience” of accomplishing the goal. It doesn’t take long, and I promise you’ll be in a better mood after your fantasy break. When you’re stuck on a problem, delegate it to your daydream virtual assistant.
  3. Schedule it. Create a time slot on your calendar every day for taking a break. But watch out: You might not want to call it “fantasy break” if your calendar is public. Perhaps call it “highly productive thinking time.”
  4. Take time to do something you love. What is it that you love to do? Garden? Run? Sing? Letting our minds wander while we’re doing what we love has great benefits of feeding our minds and our spirits. I get some of my best ideas during my Zumba class.
  5. Take note of your daydreams. Keep a journal of what you daydream about. It might push you to consider a life and career path that dreams are made of.

What are your ideas to incorporate more daydreaming into our lives?

Henna Inam is CEO of Transformational Leadership, a company focused on helping women achieve their potential to be transformational leaders. As a former C-suite executive with Fortune 500 companies, her passion is to help leaders be successful, deeply engaged and create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth and engagement. Connect @hennainam on Twitter and at her blog.