Timing Your Day to Maximize Creativity
Creativity peaks when we are most tired, often in the early morning or the late evening
It’s no surprise that those who tend to sleep the least are often the more creative. While it’s counterintuitive to think that sleepiness and fatigue may be associated with our best, most creative work, history and science both back it up. Many of history’s most creative people – including Bob Dylan, and J.R.R. Tolkien – were notorious late-night thinkers.
However, we now seem to understand better why creativity peaks in the early morning and the late evening. Research has most recently concluded that both “night owls” and “morning larks” were equally good at analytical problems, but subjects were significantly better at problems that required creative thinking when more tired.
When we’re tired, we have trouble focusing on given analytical or direct problems, and often find ourselves wandering into uncharted territory with respect to our thoughts. While this may not be great for say, financial analysis, it works wonders for processes that benefit significantly from the new and interesting connections made by unfiltered, unadulterated thought. Here, being vulnerable to distraction can be extremely beneficial, since we examine a wider scope of ideas and are less likely to dismiss thoughts that would usually seem too preposterous.
While we tend to go against the idea that working into the late hours of the night is healthy, it clearly can have significant benefits when working on difficult, creative assignments. This is likely the reason why your slacker friend from college managed to write his best essays hours before the deadline in the early morning. By unleashing, and un-inhibiting our thinking – we work differently and more creatively.
How best to harness creative times?
Creativity may peak when we’re tired, but that may not be a great reason to throw off our circadian rhythms and skip out on valuable sleep. Instead of working into the early hours of the morning, we can boost our creativity by instead working late into the evening, right before our usual sleeping time, and again in the morning. We can adjust our sleeping cycle to wake up earlier in the morning than usual, and get in an hour or two of pure creative time before we start our usual routines.
While we may be able to boost our creativity by working when tired, it’s best to avoid fatigue for more complex, analytical tasks. While we would recommend trying creative projects – music, art, or creative problem solving – when tired, we would never advocate for you to try your math exam on no sleep. By balancing our wakefulness with the types of problems we would like to solve, we can help maximize our efficiency and become better at what we do.