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Your Optimal Creativity Time May Be the Opposite of Your Optimal Cognitive Time

15 December 2012

From The Creativity Post:

The ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can be hampered when we wield too much brainpower. This means that what we think of as our optimal time of day, may not be optimal for everything.

It’s well known that there are circadian or daily rhythms in basic physiological functions like body temperature or digestion. Interestingly, these circadian rhythms extend to our psychological abilities too. Simply put, we tend to have more brainpower at our peak circadian arousal time, which leads to success on activities that require us to concentrate and mentally ‘buckle down.’

Morning types (i.e., people who are most alert in the morning) excel on a whole host of cognitive tasks when they complete these tasks early in the day. This is especially true for tasks that require working memory, like systematically reasoning through a problem or juggling numbers in your head. Working memory is our flexible mental scratch pad. It’s the brainpower that helps us keep what we want in mind and what we don’t want out. On the other hand, evening types, those who are most alert at night, tend to perform at their best on demanding cognitive tasks later in the day.

But not all tasks require working memory for success. In fact, sometimes people’s ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can actually be hampered when they wield too much brainpower. This means that what we think of as our optimal time of day, may not be optimal for everything.

Recent research confirms this idea. In a paper published last year in the journal Thinking and Reasoning, psychologist Mareike Wieth and her colleagues found that when people have to solve “insight problems” that require a high degree of creativity, solvers are much more successful when they tackle these problems at the time of day in which they are least alert.

. . . .

Now we know that certain activities benefit from us NOT being in our most alert state. Simply put, when you have to be creative, working at your non-optimal time of day may actually be optimal.

Link to the rest at The Creativity Post

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6 Comments to “Your Optimal Creativity Time May Be the Opposite of Your Optimal Cognitive Time”

  1. Or maybe, by trial and error, you can figure out when you are at your most creative.

    That’s how I discovered I write more when I buckle down first thing after breakfast, rather than wait until later in the day. My tired mind doesn’t write as well in the evenings.

    In fact, right now, my tired mind (lack of sleep) read the above post and went, “Huh?”

  2. I grade essays in morning, teach midday, & do creative writing at night.

  3. Research in the morning, write non-fiction late morning and the rest of the day. Fiction flows better in the afternoon and evening.

  4. Unfortunately, the different peaks can vary by day, depending on sleep cycle, physical activities, stress, etc. I know my most creative times can vary from morning to afternoon to evening, sometimes multiple times and sometimes once a day. But I have more success when I keep up a regular schedule at the same time of day, whether I feel creative or not.

    This is intriguing, though, and confirms what I’ve known–my most creative times are usually when my mind is relaxed and free and not ready for deep thinking.

  5. There’s also “creative” in the sense of “think up ideas” and “creative” in the sense of “able to string words together coherently.”

    I can think of some great things just before falling asleep, but that doesn’t do me much good if I drag myself up and write “he go to sword in stone, pull hard, yay zzzzzzzzzzzz”…

  6. I consider my creativity time to be my optimal time, though I realize our stuck in their ways business world thinks differently.

    I write best when I’m tired and it’s dark outside. 2-6am. But I’m a biological night owl. Have been since birth and no system of diet, exercise, light, and melatonin dosing has ever successfully changed that.

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