Creativity when you're fresh vs. when tired

Some recent studies have noted that people's ability to solve problems depends on the time of day. Of course you've heard that you should get up early and do your biggest, best, and most important things first thing in the morning (a habit I'm already in). But there's some research that runs exactly opposite -- some kinds of problem solving is better when you're fatigued. This is super interesting to me as it combines two trends I'm paying attention to: the science of productivity also the 'cadence' of life's interactions.

I'm really into the rhythms and routines of daily living, both as an observer of the lives we lead and also as a rich resource for design intervention. Daily rhythms can be a powerful place for brands to intersect with life, and for startups to disrupt or just plain eliminate routines that people don't find optimal.

So this research shows that tiredness actually helps creative problem solving (the researchers call this 'insight driven' problems). Tiredness had little to no effect on analytical problem-solving tasks.

Here's the Atlantic's suggested hypothesis to perhaps explain the phenomenon:

The reason might be that solving difficult puzzles often requires overcoming an impasse—which in turn hinges on seeing a problem from a new perspective, Wieth wrote. At the “optimal” time of day, people are really great at focusing—sometimes too great.

“You’re screening out anything that's not relevant,” Wieth told me. “If you're in your office and there's noise, you can screen out everything else.”

Meanwhile, at the “wrong” time of day, inhibitions are down and stray thoughts run amok.

I'm in the midst of planning some innovation brainstorming sessions for clients and we want (of course) to help the attendees be more creative, more open to possibility, and less inhibited.

We may well try to find a way to catch people when they're not at their most focused and analytical. And maybe to catch them when they're tired. Or even a little bit tipsy.