Chair designed by Loralee Barratt from the Noun Project

When faced with a daunting problem or large task, our instinct is to bury our heads until the job is done. On LinkedIn, Dr. Marla Gottschalk explains why that’s not always the best way of tackling problems. In-fact, she explains that we should occasionally walk away from the work:

You may not perceive fatigue, yet your mind may actually be exhausted. Rest of some form is required. In these moments, the brain may find the energy required to engage… Even at rest, our brains continue the quest to connect the dots.

Integrating periods of rest while you work on key problems is critical. You may find that a walk or meditation works for you….You might listen to your favorite pieces of music, read your favorite cartoons, game — but offer your brain the “down time” it needs. Whatever the activity you ultimately choose, the process is of no less importance. If you find yourself stressed and tired while working on a problem, take a moment to relax.

The brain is a fickle machine, but it’s fortunately one that continues to work on problems even while our consciousness is elsewhere. Stepping back to take a break might feel like moving backwards, but it’s often what your brain needs to actually move forward.

Dr. Gottschalk ends with a powerful reminder: “Above all, remember that the brain cannot be bullied into becoming effective.”

Read the full article on LinkedIn here.

  • Beth London

    Using the Pomodoro technique or some variation of it creates a rhythm that allows the brain resting time.

    • tannerc

      Completely agree Beth. Using a timer like a pomodoro can make the process of relaxing even easier and less of a stressor around whether you’re getting enough break time or working hours.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Dave Rothacker

    What works for me is to write my challenge in the middle of a page, circle it and then mind dump whatever comes out around the topic and circling each thought. The quicker the better without trying to think too much.

    Then I go do something physical or let it brew for a day or two. Clarity (partial at least) usually visits me prior to working on the challenge. I do the exact same thing prior to writing an article.

    I do not think there is a right or wrong way as long as the spirit of what Gottschalk speaks of is followed. It works!

  • chuckbluz

    As an engineer, solving complex problems is what i do. It’s been known to me for many years that the “law of diminishing returns” applies – trying to force a solution by plugging away at it sometimes gets you further away from the answer. Get up, walk around, do something else – or even talk to a coworker – can help.

    This “pomodoro” technique sounds very Pavlovian and I think the stress of forcing a break is just as bad as forcing oneself to keep at at a task.

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