If you regularly put time and effort into becoming more creative, this post is for you. If your boss or supervisor has commented that they’d love for you to work on your creative skills, this post is even more for you. If you’re an artist, musician, writer, filmmaker, poet, or any other kind of self-identified creative individual, this post is most definitely for you.
We love learning how to be more creative. Creativity remains one of the most highly valued assets in the workplace. Companies are pushing recruiters and HR staff harder than ever to find candidates who can think differently. Businesses want problems solved more efficiently and more quickly, and creative thinking is arguably the most effective way to conquer problems.
Despite all this, how does creativity as a skill (and the fostering of it) remain so utterly elusive? At least, that’s what it seems like. If you were born and raised in a developed country, chances are you were educated through more traditional models. That is to say, standardized testing and rigid classroom structures were more often the rule, not the exception.
Creative Thought Increases Value Everywhere
It’s no secret that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes and majors are prioritized and glamorized over others. These jobs almost unequivocally pay more than jobs relating to arts and literature, history, education, and psychology. Even healthcare jobs don’t always compete salary-wise with STEM-related jobs.
Now, I’m not saying careers involving STEM proficiencies are bad. I’m simply illustrating that career paths not traditionally associated with “creative” or “artsy” thinking even value the leverage of creativity, when all is said and done.
At the end of the day, creativity seems to win universal acclaim. So, let’s cut to the chase and learn when you’re most apt to produce your most creative work. Are all the myths about creativity true?
The Secret To Optimal Creativity
Believe it or not, doing your best creative thinking is most likely to happen when you’re tired. I know, I know; this information pretty much flies in the face of conventional wisdom, especially in regards to hard work. Most people recommend getting up early in the day, getting to your workspace, making sure your desk is well-lit, and hammering away at your craft. These are fantastic recommendations for productivity, but it turns out they aren’t exactly ideal for optimal creativity.
Researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks conducted a study in which they first determined the peak cognition times of their subjects. The research subjects were given a simple test that determined whether they considered themselves “morning” people or “evening” people. This test provided information on when an individual’s cognition and focus are clearest. This was later referred to in the research as one’s “peak time.” An “off-peak time” was, naturally, the opposite time at which someone’s intellectual function was most driven.
Zacks and Wieth found when we’re at our peak time, our brains are able to more efficiently filter out distractions and get work done. As the day draws near an end (or more appropriately, as we reach our off-peak time), our brains are not able to operate as efficiently, and we become more susceptible to a broader range of information. This component — the default openness to more bits of information and varying interpretations — is what actually drives optimal creativity.
This unconventional but potent realization can come as mild bad news and good news. It may be bad news because you might have to adapt your workflow to optimize your creativity; the good news is that powering up your creative work just became a lot simpler to harness.
Now that you understand when your best creative work can be done, what are a few ways to utilize this wisdom? Check out my recommendations below:
- Carry a pen and notepad with you at all times. I know this can sound super cliché because everyone recommends it, but that’s because it works. Don’t rely on your brain to remember every nugget, tidbit, and idea you create or encounter; it won’t happen. Write down everything that intrigues you so you can refer back to it later. Even better is to keep a separate notebook by your bed.
- Reserve a few nights/mornings out of the week to have nothing going on. Just allow yourself to be free of obligations and have the chance to write down new ideas, patterns, and possibilities. Assign these moments in your schedule based on your peak time.
- Maintain a relatively full schedule. When you have a lot going on, you’re more likely to get tired sooner. And, as we now know, being tired facilitates creativity. The sooner you get tired, the sooner and more likely you are to have some cool ideas coming your way. Not having a decently full schedule can be somewhat of a hindrance to creative thought.
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