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When Are You Most Creative?

When Are You Most Creative?

When Are You Most Creative?

    When are you at your creative peak? That is, what time of day do ideas flow most easily for you? What activities bring your best ideas to the surface where you can most easily gather them up?

    A recent survey by the Crown Plaza hotel group suggests that certain times and activities are more conducive to creative thinking than others [PDF download]. The most creative time, they found, was late in the evening (around 10 pm), while their respondents were at the least creative in the late afternoon (around 4:30 pm). The survey also found that most respondents were likely to have a lot of ideas either in or just after a shower.

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    I’ll admit the survey is a little silly – the results were “published” in a press release touting the commission of a designer to create note cards (they call them “Think Notes”) that travelers can use to jot down their ideas – clearly this is part of a marketing campaign intended to promote the Crown Plaza chain as most conducive to innovation for the executives that stay there.

    Still, the findings do reinforce something that many of us already know intuitively, though we might not pay much attention to it: that there are certain times of the day when we are particularly creative and other times when we simply aren’t.

    Call it circadian rhythms, call it the daily ebb and flow of blood sugar, call it magic if you want; the fact remains that or brains keep to a timetable that can be very hard to change and even harder to fight. Whether your personal schedule matches the survey’s results or whether your creative time comes earlier in the day, it pays to understand just how your mind’s abilities wax and wane over the course of the day.

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    So how can we discover our most creative times – and how can we best make use of them> Here’s a little advice to help bring your work into sync with your daily rhythm.

    1. Pay attention

    Sometimes your body tells you when it’s ready to rock and roll and when it’s ready to crash and burn. If you can’t keep your eyes open, chances are you’re not at your creative peak.

    More often, though, we have to look pretty close to figure out where in our days our minds are really performing at peak levels. To help find your most creative moments, you might consider doing one of these things:

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    • Add a “creative assessment” to your weekly review.
      Think back to all the things you’ve done over the previous week. What were the most creative tasks you did? What time were you working on them? How did it go? What is a painful slog or a breezy jaunt? Make a note and compare your results week to week.
    • Keep a log.
      I’m not a huge fan of mixing work with self-assessment – there’s too big a shift in mindset needed to critically assess your work more or less as you’re doing it. Still, keeping a log of activities can help you reflect back, perhaps in your weekly review. You might also get some use out of automated time tracking tools like Slife, which can tell you not only what you were working on at any given moment but, with a little interpretation, how focused you were. Working steadily on one task over an extended time is a good sign that you were in the creative zone, while rapid shifting from task to task suggests distractedness.
    • Switch it up.
      Since you might be wasting your most creative moments on uncreative tasks, try shifting things around for a while. Start with the survey’s suggestions, scheduling creative work late at night and more mundane tasks for the end of the workday, and see how that feels.

    2. Be prepared.

    Knowing when creativity is most likely to strike, and what sorts of activities can trigger your creativity, doesn’t mater much unless you’re ready to take advantage of the moment when it arrives. While I can’t sing the praises of carrying a pen and notebook with you all the time highly enough, there are times when ink-and-paper capture isn’t going to cut it.

    Like when you’re in the shower. According to the Crown Plaza survey, the shower is the #1 source of creative inspiration. What will you do when an idea strikes you mid-lather? I keep dry-erase markers in the bathroom and scribble notes to myself on the mirror when I get out of the shower – though I like the idea of using kids’ bath crayons to jot ideas directly onto the shower wall as they occur.

    What about other contexts? How are you going to make use of your most creative time if it turns out to be while you’re commuting, during your workout, or as you drift off to sleep. Put some thought into it now so you’ll be ready when the next idea comes.

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    3. Classify and schedule.

    What a shame it would be to spend your most creative moments inventorying the supply cabinet! Instead, inventory your various tasks and sort them into those that require your most creative self and those you could manage while unconscious. Then schedule those tasks according to the best time of day for you. Work on that marketing presentation during your peak creative time and do your expense reports when your creative self takes its afternoon siesta.

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    Last Updated on September 17, 2020

    5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

    5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

    There’s nothing quite like a state of “flow” when you’re working. The rare moments when your inspiration aligns with your motivation likely lead to some of your most creative work. Plus, it feels great to actually check a task or project off the list so you can move on to the next thing. Meanwhile, a mental block — its opposite — can cause work to feel laborious and uninspired. Forget creativity when you have a mental block — it makes it difficult even to start working on what you need to do.

    A mental block can manifest in several ways. Perhaps your imposter syndrome is squelching your creative ideas, for instance, or you’re overwhelmed by the breadth of a project and its impending deadline. Maybe you’re just tired or stressed.

    Either way, having a mental block feels like being trapped in your own head, and it can seriously dampen your ability to think outside the box. The problem is, you’re so locked into your own perspective that you don’t see more innovative approaches to your problems.[1]

    Luckily, jumping over these mental hurdles is simpler than you think. You just need the right strategies to get your flow back.

    Try these five practical ways to overcome a mental block.

    1. Break Your Project Down

    A few years ago, I was working on changing a company product that I believed would hugely benefit our customers. Sounds great, right?

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    As inspired as I was to make people’s lives easier, though, the sheer magnitude of the task at hand felt overwhelming. Every morning, I cracked open my laptop to work and felt totally paralyzed. I loved the idea, yes, but actualizing it felt risky. What if it didn’t turn out the way I pictured in my mind? More importantly, where would I even begin?

    A former colleague gave me great advice over coffee:

    Change how you think. Start by breaking the big project down into small tasks.

    When a major project overwhelms you, you only see the entire forest instead of the individual trees. And as you stare it down, you start to feel discouraged by your own lack of progress, thus slowing you down further.

    Breaking down a massive task into smaller chunks makes the work feel more manageable. You’ll have multiple clear places to start and end with, which will lend a motivating sense of productivity and mastery to your process. Learn more about it here: The Motivation Flowchart: The Mental Process of Successful People

    Think of it as accumulating small wins. When you realize you’re more capable than you have once thought, you’ll develop the momentum and confidence needed to get your big job done little by little.[2]

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    2. Change Up Your Scenery

    Of course, there’s a time and place for sitting down to get things done. But if you’re experiencing a mental block, switching up your surroundings can make a big difference in your output.

    Have you ever noticed how your environment directly impacts your performance and mood?

    Your brain associates your physical surroundings with certain feelings and activities. So, if you feel mentally stuck, your mind may need some new sensory stimuli.

    During this time in your life, it may not be possible to set up shop at a cafe or move from your cubicle to a conference room, so you may need to think outside the box. If you’re working remotely in a home office, try going to your dining table or couch. If the weather cooperates, sit outside for a bit with your computer or take a walk around the block.

    You can also simply rearrange your workspace. Not sure where to begin? Try decluttering. Some studies show that an organized desk enhances productivity.[3]

    The point is to stimulate your brain with new sounds and sights. You may find a much-needed dose of inspiration when you work while breathing in the fresh air, listening to city sounds, or staying in the comfort of your own living space.

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    3. Do an Unrelated Activity

    When it comes to productivity, a bit of distraction isn’t always a bad thing. That’s especially true if your chosen distraction helps you get things done in the long run.

    Have you realized how your most creative thoughts tend to bubble up when you’re, say, lying in bed or taking a shower? In their research of the “incubation period,” scientists have discovered that people’s best ideas seem to surface when they aren’t actively trying to solve a problem.[4]

    In a 2010 study, participants needed to look for a roommate or new employee based on the profiles that the researchers gave. The people who had a brief “incubation period” — in this case, working on an anagram — consistently made better choices than those who spent more time weighing their options.

    If you can’t seem to prime your brain for a project, try doing something completely unrelated to work, such as washing your dishes, working out, or calling a friend. Some experts say finding another low-stake project to work on can help jump-start the creative part of your brain and activate your flow.[5]

    The key is to allow your unconscious mind to do its best work: eliciting the new knowledge your conscious mind may be ignoring or suppressing.[6]

    4. Be Physical

    Feeling antsy? When your mind won’t seem to settle into a state of flow, it may help to swap out your mental activity for a physical one and see how it impacts your perspective.

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    While any physical activity is beneficial for your body — and getting up to move can serve as a helpful form of distraction — certain forms of exercise can more directly impact the mind. To be specific, relaxing, flow-based exercises like dance, yoga, or tai chi can create a gentle sense of momentum in your body, which can prime your brain for the same state.

    Stress-reducing activities may also be necessary. Meditating or taking slow, deep breaths will also calm your nervous system if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Evidence shows that the logical, creative part of your brain essentially shuts off when you’re stressed.[7]

    On the flip side, when your mind and body are relaxed, you can think more clearly, be more creative, and focus for longer periods — all of which will help you overcome a mental block.

    5. Don’t Force It

    It can be frustrating to fight against your own mind. If your mental block won’t go away after some effort, it may be time to take a break. Forcing creative thoughts only adds to your stress levels, which in turn inhibits your ability to think creatively. And if you sit and stare at a project for too long, you’ll not only waste valuable time but also begin to associate this specific work with frustration and produce work you’re not proud of.

    “I know that forcing something is not going to create anything beyond mediocre, so I step aside and work on a different project until it hits me,” the artist Ben Skinner said about his creative process.[8]

    If your work isn’t time-sensitive, then it may make sense to step away for a while to focus on something else, be it an administrative task that requires less creativity or a project that you feel motivated to work on.

    When the time is right, you’ll find your way back to the original task with a fresh, creative perspective (hopefully).

    More on Getting Rid of a Mental Block

    Featured photo credit: Jonas Leupe via unsplash.com

    Reference

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