In need of an “aha!” moment? If you’re a night owl, you’ll likely experience it in the morning. If you’re an early bird, inspiration might strike at day’s end.
That’s because innovation and creativity are at their peak when we’re not at our best, with respect to our circadian rhythms, says a recent study.
Circadian rhythms determine whether you’re a morning or evening type. These rhythms are responsible for our alertness and heart rate, among other things. When you require focus, say, when you’re working through a logic problem or analyzing a spreadsheet, it’s best to attempt the work during those peak hours.
However, a study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks suggests that when you need insight and alternative ways of thinking, your best work may emerge during nonpeak hours.
When you’re facing an insight problem, it pays to be more distracted to allow unfiltered thoughts to enter your mind. When your mind is open to alternative solutions, say Wieth and Zacks, you may be more successful in finding them.
For example, here’s a classic insight problem: A dealer in antique coins got an offer to buy a beautiful bronze coin. The coin had an emperor’s head on one side and the date 544 B.C. stamped on the other. The dealer examined the coin, but instead of buying it, he called the police. Why?
Try pondering the question during peak and nonpeak hours, to see if there’s a difference in your thinking.
(Answer: At the time of their printing, coins wouldn’t have been dated “B.C.” since no one knew they were in B.C. years.)
— Adapted from “The Inspiration Paradox: Your Best Creative Time Is Not When You Think,” Cindi May, Scientific American.