getting creative with the worst time of day

As human beings, our energy level and ability to focus varies throughout the day according to a natural phenomenon called circadian rhythms. Conventional thinking suggests you get your best work done during the optimal period of your natural daily rhythm. But what do you do with the non-optimal time? Two pscyhology researchers in Michigan suggest getting creative.

As we get older, our rhythms change slightly. For most people, it means that our prime hours for optimal performance and focus get earlier. As such, becoming highly productive requires that we guard these early morning hours carefully.

In their best-selling book, The One Thing, Keller Williams founders Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggest “building a bunker” around these high-productivity hours. Their recipe for success involves focusing on the most important driver of your performance for the first four hours of the day.

Another productivity expert, Darren Hardy, the editor of SUCCESS Magazine, describes this as one of the key secrets of ‘superachievers’. He recommends starting the day with a 90 minute ‘jam session’, focused on one key, important, challenging activity.

Science backs this up. A recent study by two researchers from Albion College and Michigan State University shows that we do better analytical work during our optimal part of the day. We remain more focused. We are less influenced by the distractions in our work environment.

Okay, so what about non-optimal times like right after lunch?

Some people suggest you use this time to do busy work like knocking out email. Essentially it gets chalked up as lost time, because we aren’t as alert. But what if someone found a surprisingly good use for these hours that actually made them strategically valuable?

They did.

As part of that same study, the Michigan psychology researchers hypothesized that our lower energy state, or what they call ‘reduced inhibitory attentional control’, might actually make us better at non-linear thinking and produce more creative, innovative ideas.

And, they were right.

They did a study of over 400 college students problems to solve during their off-peak hours and found that they actually did better at solving challenges that required creative insight. They were less likely to get stuck because their brains were more open and receptive…the flip side of being strong and focused.

So what does this mean for you?

Don’t retreat to your office for busy work! Certainly don’t go aimlessly to your inbox or the web. You’ll just end up distracted, sucked into time-wasters, and completely unproductive.

Instead…

1. Call a brainstorming meeting.
2. Tinker with a problem that has eluded you.
3. Call someone to explore ideas for a joint venture.
4. Think about a way to reposition your product or service.
5. Close your eyes and imagine ‘what if?’

(…and if you end up falling asleep for 10 minutes, consider the benefits of a power nap!)

Please comment. What have you done to make the most of your off-peak hours at work? Have you experienced any breakthroughs?