As it turns out, there is a science to creating creativity.
By studying human behavior and lifestyle patterns, researchers are able to determine the optimal practices for achieving maximum innovation. Take advantage of these general guidelines this week for better creative work:
Write When You Wake Up
There's a reason your late-night college papers should have been started before 11 pm, and it's not just because procrastination is trouble. Research suggests you'll do your best writing right after you wake up.
This rule applies to morning larks and night owls alike. Whether you get up before the sun or after normal people have eaten lunch, putting words on paper right after you've woken up will produce your best work.
Studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the backbone of your willpower, is most active when you wake up -- meaning that creative activity is highest during and immediately after sleep. The brain hasn't had to make many decisions yet, leaving it freer to explore new ideas.
Basically, you need to devote time to writing before your daily work schedule kicks off. As your day wears on, your willpower is slowly sapped away.
Once your willpower is gone, your brain has no more strength to move that big writer's block out of the way.
Save Problem Solving For Your Mid-Afternoon Slump
Believe it or not, the brain often functions most creatively when the body is tired. If you hit that same mental wall every afternoon, why not put it to use?
Being alert and focused narrows the mind's thought process, often causing one to fixate on the same solution, which certainly has its place in a typical work day.
However, being tired and unfocused opens up the mind's ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.
When you're feeling groggy, it's likely that your mind has more options to play with, and will be more receptive to those options.
Of course, all ideas created in the blur of exhaustion should be reviewed with a more critical mind when you're feeling awake and alert.
Pay Attention To Creative Thoughts During Your Evening Routine
Ever wonder why your most profound thoughts seem to come to you in the shower? It's not just a sitcom cliché or a coincidence: your mind operates more creativelywhen it's preoccupied and and your body is simultaneously active:
The brain produces dopamine when the body gets moving, which stimulates the creative centers. Feeling relaxed while engaging in a task can also trigger better dopamine flow. Things like taking a walk or driving home from work (which feels different for many of us compared to driving to work), can increase dopamine in the brain and lead to more creative thoughts.
Research also shows that being distracted allows your brain to stop focusing on the ineffective solutions you're trying to apply to a problem. Being absorbed in something else allows that thought to be incubated for a while, and can allow for new and better solutions to surface later.
This means the best time to get ideas is when your mind is distracted and your body is producing dopamine. Many of the activities that we do after work -- exercising, cooking, or even walking the dog -- are ideal times for the perfect idea to strike.
While you wouldn't want to spend too much time refining these ideas in the moment (after all, you need some time away from your work), quickly jot them down for consideration at the office tomorrow.
Again, these are general guidelines that will likely help you produce creative work more consistently. However, we don't all work the same, so don't be surprised if you find that a different routine works for you.
Does a different approach work for you? Share your tips in the comments section below. We'd love to know what helps you stay innovative!