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There’s no better time than summer to let your mind wander. 

You’re driving down the highway and miss the exit because you were rehashing a conversation with a friend in your head. Or you’re in a meeting and can’t recall a word anyone said because you were thinking about a recent beach vacation.

Sound familiar? Once considered the province of the lazy and absent-minded, daydreaming is finally getting its due. Psychologists now say a wandering mind can boost productivity, help achieve goals, and inspire solutions to pesky problems.
There’s no better time than summer to let your mind wander. 


“Creative ideas don’t come when you’re focused on your goal; they come when your mind has wandered from your task,” says Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of The Imagination Institute and research associate in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Think about the last time you had a eureka moment. Were you at your desk consciously mulling the task at hand, or were you taking a shower, on the golf course, or out jogging? Most likely you were engaged in an activity that allowed your brain to relax or take a mini vacation.

That’s because creative insights result from simultaneously accessing multiple areas of our brain. Researchers think daydreaming involves the “default” region, where memories, the meaning of events, self-awareness, future planning, and other processes reside. Recent studies also indicate the “executive network,” which is associated with complex-problem solving, is highly engaged when we focus on the contents of our daydreams. Bottom line: Big ideas require reflection and wisdom gleaned from our inner lives, according to Kaufman, who is also the author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, and a self-professed daydreamer. 

“We’re not capable of imagination if we cannot recall memories and information from our past,” he says. That may explain why, as a culture obsessed with efficiency and output, we spend between 30 and 50 percent of our waking hours daydreaming, according to one estimate. Could it be a wandering mind is one worth following?

Google thinks so. The company has a policy allowing employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on a project of their choosing. Clearly, employees do more than daydream during hiatus from their official duties, but it does require them to shut out the external world and delve inward.

It’s an exercise we should all embrace, Kaufman says, especially if we want to live more meaningful and happy lives. So don’t put off relaxing by the pool or lounging in the hammock with a cold glass of iced tea. There’s work to be done.