Why Doing Nothing Can Make You More Productive
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Why Doing Nothing Can Make You More Productive

Here are ways to get your brain a rest.

By Annemarie Dooling
Wed, Mar 17, 2021 11:42amGrey Clock 2 min

One secret to achieving more: Finding time to do nothing.

In our efforts to squeeze every second from the day, it seems counterintuitive to watch a pot of coffee boil or gaze out the window. But your brain uses those free periods for important cleanup work, neuroscience research indicates. And during the pandemic, as the boundaries between work and home have blurred, it has become harder to create mental breaks.

Even brief timeouts help the brain reinforce long-term learning and productivity. You come out of downtime able to learn more, and can access that learning faster. “When you take a break, you may want to do something mind-consuming to help with motivation, but technically your best way of taking a break is to do something mindless,” says Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan who teaches a popular online course on how to open your mind to learning.

To ease into allowing yourself to do nothing, start with something familiar. Here are some techniques.

Take a long shower

A natural place to start slowing down is a habit that’s already built into your schedule, such as taking a shower. Letting your mind wander here can be a stepping stone to quieting more hectic environments. Or try blocking off time to look out your window. In her book “How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” writer Jenny Odell describes how bird-watching became her favourite slow-down activity: Exhausted after pulling an all-nighter, she had gazed out the window and noticed a cluster of yellow birds. “I burned out, and in that state of forced relaxation, that happened to be when I noticed,” she says.

Play a game without keeping score

Dr Oakley points out that while our body’s dopamine reward system might encourage tasks, keeping score is labour. Instead of competing against your crossword best, find a puzzle game on your phone that requires simply swiping.

Take a solo walk

Leave the Fitbit at home, and free up an hour to absorb the scenery in silence. Being in nature has been linked to a multitude of physical and mental benefits. But be sure not to create a competition, which can take the relaxation out of the activity. “We get fixated on taking 10,000 steps,” Ms Odell says. “Yes, it’s good to go for a walk, but this isn’t a job.” Enjoy the meandering, rather than the race, she suggests.

Cook a big meal

Borrowing from the downtime that the Italians call dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing), the act of cooking a meal can encourage a wandering mind. It can be tempting to create a culinary masterpiece to make the time worth it, but fight the urge. Ms Odell suggests trying to “see the nonwork time as something other than the negative space left after work.” Try a simple recipe that requires slow preparation. Not only is the activity downtime, but bonus points for resting at the table between courses.

Just sit down

If you’re struggling to get enough rest at night, try a short nap. Simply find a comfortable chair, and breathe. While you’re napping, remember that your brain never is. Rest is one of the most important ways to enhance the neurological flexibility to build the kind of conceptual understanding that is related to identity and purpose, says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. Consider that a reason to lose the guilt over a daily rest.



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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