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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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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