A Qualitative Study of Daydreaming Episodes at Work

  • Kelsey L. MerloEmail author
  • Katherine E. Wiegand
  • Stefanie P. Shaughnessy
  • Lauren E. Kuykendall
  • Howard M. Weiss
Original Paper


The purpose of this paper is to explore the experiential elements of mind wandering at work and prompt the formation of new research questions addressing this experiential perspective. To do this, we use an episodic framework for mind wandering that is grounded in the subjective work experience and examines mind wandering holistically. Thirty full-time employees participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews exploring the experience of mind wandering at work. Responses were transcribed and then coded using conventional content analysis. Data collection and coding proceeded in an iterative process, as described by Grounded Theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). This qualitative study provides descriptive evidence for the experiential components of a mind wandering episode (onset, termination cues, and outcomes). Within each of these components, additional themes are identified, discussed, and connected to person- and organization-centric work processes. The thematic organization of daydreaming episodes reveals new aspects of the subjective experience of daydreaming that can be explored further. To aid this, we provide a framework for investigating the inter-relationships between these aspects. The identification of these subjective experiences paves the way for novel research investigating how daydreams, and the accompanying subjective experience, inform momentary work processes. This paper provides a unique subjective experience to understanding mind wandering at work. By directly addressing the phenomenology of mind wandering at work, we encourage a new perspective to the mind wandering phenomena and encourage the development of new research questions.


Mind wandering Daydreaming Content analysis Interviews Subjective experience 



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.University of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social SciencesFt BelvoirUSA
  4. 4.George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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