I’ve walked past colleagues’ desks where someone is throwing a ball in the air as they sit on the phone, or they are squeezing a stress reliever as they tinker with numbers in Excel. I’ve even been known to create some “masterpieces” with my color changing Thinking Putty as I try to solve a problem at my desk! Is this a sign that everyone is “goofing off” instead of working diligently? According to researchers at New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering, fidgeting at one’s desk could actually stimulate the mind and aid in more creative thinking as well as faster learning. As children, we were probably reprimanded for such behavior; however, playing at one’s desk may be the key to easing anxiety and improving focus at work.
A software developer who was interviewed for Wall Street Journal’s article “Get Creative at Your Desk With a Little Playtime” commented that playing provides the clarity he needs to solve problems. He wasn’t alone in this, with others stating that fiddling with a pen helps keep the wheels turning. Others mentioned they feel anxious while on long conference calls or bored when reading dull material for their job and need an outlet to relieve their stress. In those situations, one woman found playing with a Slinky keeps her calm and distracts her from doing any other work while being on the call. Another interviewee stated squeezing a smooth penguin stress reliever with googly pop-out eyes makes the dull tasks of her job more enjoyable.
Those actions confirm what Frank R. Wilson, a neurologist, lecturer and author of a book on how the hand and mind cultivate intelligence, stated. He says that ” the hand can operate as a director of consciousness – a tool or agent of the mind in achieving a mental state in which people will be able to get the outcome they want”. In other words, if your stress levels are increasing or your mind is wandering, allow yourself to play. Let your hands find something to move, mold, click, touch, or push to “stay focused, ease anxiety and jump-start creative thinking”. Dr Wilson also remarks that finding something smooth to touch, like a stone or beads, can “evoke the timeless, ancient human practice of meditative ritual and screen out extraneous stimuli.” Holding these objects can reduce stress and he claims even build confidence.
Although research is still being conducted, I think it’s safe to say that a little playtime at your desk can’t hurt! So go ahead and channel your inner child. Play with Quicksand at your desk (it’s not as messy as real sand!), grab a stress reliever of sorts or even a coloring book, and see if it improves your productivity and creative thinking!
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