The Irishman, a three-time major winner, has played two events in the first three weeks of January, in stark contrast to previous years. While he is taking this week off – he will be playing host to his trainer Dave Aldred for two days at his Dublin home – the world No.50 will return to competition by adding a first appearance in next week's Phoenix Open.
McIlroy arrived in the UAE capital without having had a scorecard in his hand in eight weeks but, complete with his new clubs, posted a pair of 75s four days after being unveiled as Nike's new capture.
The world No.1 is not scheduled to compete again until February 20 in the WGC-Accenture Matchplay Championship but Harrington said: "There's no substitute for playing in low-key competition. I will say the best way of doing it is low key.
"He's got to get out and play bounce games; he will know that. On a Tuesday, I hit the ball 30 yards shorter than I hit it during the tournament."
Harrington denied that McIlroy is in a no-win situation should he elect to add an event but then fail to impress, as he did in Abu Dhabi. "Not at all, because, if Rory played great, it will be a win-win situation," he said. "How last week went won't feel good to him because of the spotlight and the pressure but he's got four weeks off to figure it out.
"The problem with being world No.1 is that he's in the spotlight. As much as you try and keep your head down, the media is going to ask him the same questions. You get asked a question often enough and that gets into your head."