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Best times to be creative

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Researchers Marieke Wieth of Albion College and Rose Sacks of Michigan State University recently published a study on problem-solving that gives great insight into the best time of day to tackle issues that require focus and creativity.

After segregating 428 students by asking them to self-identify as “night owls” or “morning people,” Wieth and Sacks gave the participants six “insight-based” problems to solve and tracked the relative success of each participant. The research showed, surprisingly, that “night owls” had better luck creatively solving problems during the day. “Morning people” were more successful tackling thorny scenarios at night.

Incorporate these insights into your personal creativity process:

  • Determine your personal style. Do you wake up ready to tackle the day, or do you need some time to get adjusted before diving in? Or do you experience a burst of energy at night that helps you focus? Identify whether you do your best work in the morning or evening and structure your creative time around the opposite time of day. The research indicates that you are more likely to be free of the mental distractions that inhibit creativity during the time of day that runs counter to your productivity zone.
  • Reserve your productivity zone for unfamiliar tasks. Wieth and Sacks point out that while creative problem solving is best done at the opposite end of your productivity zone, dealing with unfamiliar tasks or situations is best accomplished when you are most “on.” In other words, creatively solving night-owl problems as a morning person works best with tasks you understand or perform regularly. “If you are a morning person and your most important task of the day is to come up with a new marketing slogan or a completely new solution to a problem,” says Wieth, “it might actually be better saved until later in the day.”

— Adapted from “The Best Time of the Day to Get Creative,” Jena McGregor, Washington Post Leadership Blog, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-leadership.

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