What words are there for

beneficial constructive distraction from a task that would improve the results or establish or facilitate balance among various tasks (all being a "distraction" in that sense)

As in work-life balance that would not manifest until some extraneous "distraction" occurs that would improve the result?

I would like to avoid philosophical or psychological discussions of whether it can be the case. But there's such an assumption underlying the quoted expression---namely that giving sole attention to only one thing without another one, a few, or many, things, is detrimental to your success at that one thing.

What I am looking for is either a single substantive (if existent) or an idiom, preferably, more or less commonplace, with regard to the substantive "distraction".

Edit: I am grateful for the answers given so far. I failed to mention that I am looking, among other, particularly for words/idioms that are acceptable in rather formal context like corporate letters, job application letters, scientific documents.

Please take a look at the comments to the answers so far for an exemplary specification of why I would like to avoid negative connotations. It is basically due to the perception of the addressee--the message should not communicate that the person is tired or "burned out", i.e., wants to use their free time rather than working time, for an additional activity.

  • Here are four possibilities that emphasize making the most of a change in routine: "creative diversion," "inspirational variation," "productive cross-pollination," and "invigorating change-of-pace."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 21:03

6 Answers 6


I think a common phrase that sums this point is All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

  • Indeed, it does, albeit slightly informal. Never heard it before. Although I recognize I should have, according to the page you've linked. Thank you!
    – user72791
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 18:24

Closest I can think of is that sometimes we need to 'stop and smell the roses'

  • This idiom has a connotation of admitting some sort of failure or giving up which is devastating for some careers. It's hard to communicate the intrinsic benefit of slowing down with this idiom--as far as my perception goes. This is still a great input, thank you!
    – user72791
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 18:26

There are a few phrases that somewhat address this.

work/life balance — the notion that burnout can happen but an appropriate balance between an employee's work and non-work activities will improve productivity in the long run.

work-life balance — a concept including proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) and "lifestyle" (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation).

This probably isn't suitable because it nearly always contracts "burnout" or "stress" and the concept is referenced as an attempt to explicitly avoid burnout. The good news is that it has a ton of related literature.

interruption science — the "study of the effect of disruptions on job performance".

This is a more generic term that would include any effects that distractions would have. Most of the article is focused on the negative effects of distractions but your example could simply be termed a positive distraction or a beneficial distraction. You could also use "disruption" or "interruption" in place of "distraction".

heads down — Concentrating, usually so heavily and for so long that everything outside the focus area is missed.

heads up — opposite of "heads down"

This is more of a "state" or "mode" than a description of the distraction but people can explicitly switch between these states. Someone who "heads up" is able to notice the "bigger picture" and spot "warning signs" coming in from areas that would be outside of the focus of someone who is "heads down".

You could describe "heads up" as "distractible" or beneficially distractible. This means they are approachable and not "locked in".

A similar phrase to "heads down" but with negative connotations is "blinders on".

There is also a very common concept of leaving a problem unsolved and then coming back to it with a "fresh mind". A common idiom is "sleep on it" but the same principle applies without literal sleep. Similar phrases:

put this on the back burner

ponder it for a while

keep an eye out for a solution

flash of brilliance

These types of behaviors can be explicitly promoted and I've heard of workplaces that have a jogging track around the offices that can be used to "clear one's mind".

But none of these phrases/idioms directly apply to the concept of a distraction being beneficial. They are more intended to convey the concept of "rebooting" or going "back to the whiteboard" with a "fresh start" or "new angles."

The lingo is so prevalent that I find it strange there is no common term for this but I was not able to find one. The closest was "relaxation" which more accurately descriptions a physical attitude rather than a "mental pause/play" pattern.

In the end, I have bolded the most relevant suggestions and then scattershot a whole bunch of close but not quite terms in the hopes that it triggers someone else's memory.


Doing something as a 'change of pace'.

  • A change of pace also feels like implying some tiredness--like stopping and smelling the roses. It seems as if the person would admit being burned out. It's hard to communicate something commonly regarded as a weakness as being a reasonable thing to do--same action but different mental states that lead to effectively the same conduct.
    – user72791
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 18:31

A common term for this kind of distraction is "healthy distraction".

Below is a passage that explains the importance of balancing between emotions and distractions for coping (from the book "Coping : The Psychology of What Works" By Lawrence C. R. Snyder):

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  • Looks almost right. I'm trying to avoid any potentially upcoming negative associations as far as possible. In the context of psychological discourse among peers given the definition seems right. But I'm aiming to ensure that communication to an addressee who is not necessarily privy to such a convention renders rather a neutral or a good trait. In how far do you feel is that term common to an average person? To me, reading "healthy" brings up the dual notion of "unhealthy". And "distraction" itself isn't necessarily beneficial to perceived or expected "success".
    – user72791
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 21:04

How about 'take a time-out' to focus on other areas of one's life.

Or 'has the ability to take a time-out'. The time-out, being, from work.

Or is 'able to take a break from working, to enjoy... eg. smelling the roses.'

How about: Welcome distractions, or healthy distractions?

Is able to allow 'welcome distractions' in their day, such as seeing a friend...

Allows 'healthy distractions' such as a delicious lunch, or time to work on an artistic project...

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