Closing Your Eyes Is the Simplest Productivity Hack

Dr Michael Burry (Portrayed by Christian Bale in The Big Short). Screenshot from a Youtube clip.

Have you ever wondered why we tend to close our eyes when recalling details or to focus our thoughts? As it turns out, this habit has surprising benefits. And according to the latest research, briefly closing your eyes on purpose is probably the simplest productivity hack there is.

When your eyes are closed, you’re able to retain more auditory information, such as podcasts and audiobooks, and become more sensitive to sounds. You also recall more visual details correctly. Witnesses who shut their eyes remembered 44 % more information (such as time on a clock or number of people at a scene) than those who kept their eyes open.

Several studies have shown that closing your eyes after a learning bout helps consolidate learned information. For instance, when given memory tests followed by a 15 to 20-minute wakeful rest (eyes closed but still awake), fMRI scans show that participants’ brains worked frantically to replay the learning experience. That’s why closing your eyes after a learning bout helps you memorise information and consolidate knowledge better, thus learning faster.

Not only will you learn new skills better, but with your eyes closed, you can double the number of creative ideas you can have.

In one study, researchers measured “divergent” and “convergent” thinking (two attributes of creativity) in a group of people. To assess divergent thinking, researchers asked participants to find new ways to use a familiar object. A clever idea would be to use a clothes iron to grill cheese or warm a soup can. In the convergent test, participants had to find a word related to three given terms. For example, the word “lemon” is related to all the words “tree”, “pie”, and “juice”. For both tests, people who had their eyes shut scored twice as much as those who kept their eyes wide open. The science is clear: Original thinking happens more naturally when your eyes are closed.

But why does closing your eyes boost your brainpower?

The answer is simple: Your brain is like a machine with limited energy. Vision, it turns out, sucks a lot of that energy. Compared to sight, touch and taste consume a fraction of that energy. That’s why the moment you close your eyes, you free up a big amount of brainpower. And when this happens, your brain works harder to retrieve details, imagine creative ideas, or find answers to challenging problems.

Sometimes you don’t even need to close your eyes on purpose. Your subconscious mind already knows that vision clouds your thinking. In fact, people tend to blink more and for longer just before they’re about to solve a creative problem!

I seldom have good article ideas with my eyes open. That’s why I made it a habit to lay down for a few minutes each day, eyes closed, and let my mind drift. Almost always, the results are remarkable: Topic ideas, flawless introductions, awesome headlines.

If you never close your eyes for a few minutes during breaks, chances are you’ve been missing out on some great ideas that come to mind when your eyes are closed. In fact, keeping your eyes open all day overstimulates your brain, causing early fatigue and making you prone to stress and burnout.

Among all productivity hacks, none is as easy, quick, and cost-free as simply closing your eyes. So next time you’re struggling to solve a problem, push past a creative block, or need to consolidate what you’ve learned, close your eyes and rest for a moment. Only then you might unleash your brain’s true potential.

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