What are some good ways to foster creativity and innovation in everyday work? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

We tend to think of creativity as this flash of inspiration that comes unbidden and when we least expect it. Neuroscience is showing us that that's true, in part. But there are some things we can do to create more opportunities for these kinds of eureka moments that lead to more creativity, innovation, and insight at work.

The first is to understand the difference between creativity and innovation. You can still innovate when you're tired and crispy around the edges--you can come up with the next iteration, or tweak around the edges. But to create something wholly new and different, to have a fresh insight into how to solve an old problem, that takes a different state of mind and being. Neuroscientists Mark Beeman and John Kounious actually mapped what happens in the brain during a moment of insight. They found that it required being relaxed and rested and in a "diffuse" state of mind. So there's good neurological science behind why we tend to get our best ideas in the shower, or after a workout, or just as we're waking up.

Our brains work in two modes: we have a concentrated mode, when we're directly focused on a task or paying attention specifically to something. And we have a diffuse mode, when we're daydreaming, spacing out, or not thinking of anything in particular--letting our minds wander, so to speak. (Mindfulness and meditation are different states, and both are more about focusing attention rather than diffusing it.)

So to become more creative at work--or really in life--honor the two modes of your brain, and make sure you're giving it enough time off.

Unfortunately, so much of our work these days is eaten up by endless meetings and emails. You can get to the end of the day and just feel like you've been playing email ping pong. I'm guilty of this. So set yourself up for creativity.

  • Take time to pause, and figure out what's most important, as well as most urgent.
  • Pick the top three to five things you need and want to do.
  • Set up your day in chunks. Gather email and social media into a chunk, rather than being continually responsive during the day. That sets your brain up to be in vigilant mode, always on the lookout for the next ding of excitement, rather than expansive and open, which is key to creativity.
  • Work in pulses of no more than 90 minutes, then take a break. Take a walk. Change the channel. Let your mind wander. Then come back to a concentrated work mode.

Here's a Q&A I did with John Kounious about the excellent book he wrote with Mark Beeman about the Eureka moments and how to set the stage for creating space for it in your life.

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Published on: Oct 28, 2016