Without creativity, innovation is pretty much dead in the water, so anything you can do to get your juices flowing is business smart. One of the easiest tricks in the book to do this? According to science, just pay more attention to your natural sleep-wake cycles.

Researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zachs conducted a study with 428 undergraduates. They asked the participants to classify themselves as morning or night people. Then the students had to do some problem solving jobs and answer analytic-style questions. The results showed that the morning people solved problems better in the evening, while the night people solved problems better in the morning. Put another way, when sleepiness went up, so did creativity.

Why drowsiness works in your creative favor

According to Wieth, when you start to get tired, it's harder for your brain to filter out distractions and focus, meaning you can take in and think about more unrelated information and potentially interpret differently as a result. At the same time, it can't pull on the existing connections between ideas as well--you temporarily "forget" the associations or rules. This makes it easier to link concepts in new, abstract ways, too.

Creating a routine that works for you and your teams

The study results show that there's no one-size-fits-all time of day when it's best to do creative work. Instead, the best time is highly personal and based on your own biology and routine. But the results also suggest that, if you know when you individually start to feel your eyelids droop, you can manipulate your agenda around that shift to tap into your creative potential more deeply. For example, if you don't really start feeling "with it" until mid morning or early afternoon, use the start of your day for brainstorming, writing or similar jobs, rather than for analytic tasks like data review or making big decisions.

Extending this idea, it's also good to get a sense of when those on your team feel tired or energized so you can coordinate their work better and get the most out of each player. It very well might be that allowing team members to complete their portion of a creative project by themselves when energy is lower is better than forcing them to collaborate when everybody's wide awake. The rise of the gig and temp economy already is improving the acceptance of whenever-you-can teams, and most workers appreciate autonomy and flexibility on the job.

Lastly, while the above study looks at the big picture of your day, don't forget about your ultradian rhythm. This rhythm is present during both sleep and wakefulness, and it translates to your brain going through alternating periods of high-frequency and low-frequency activity roughly every 90 minutes or so. If you've got a task that has both creative and analytical elements, if possible, it might help to leave the creative part until last, when your brain naturally is downshifting for a break.

Published on: Nov 1, 2018
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