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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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