While some creatives say the early bird gets the proverbial worm, others argue it’s the night owl that crushes creatively. Here, through recent research and insight from creatives, we’re examining the best times for productivity, helping you get an idea of when to unleash your creative mind…and actually get stuff done.
Many agree morning is the best time to create. And there’s a few reasons for this:
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Fewer distractions in the morning means more time to let your inner creative voice be heard. The distractions that pop up as the day progresses make that inner voice harder to make out, says Leo Babauta, founder of ZenHabits, “The more noise that’s around us,” he says, “the more difficult it is to hear our voice.”
Your inner critic is still asleep. Research suggests that our minds are most creative during and just after sleep. This is partly because the editing part of our brain tends to sleep in, allowing us to be fully creative without our inner critic analyzing our ideas. Author Richard Goodman urges writers: “Get in there and write before it wakes up and starts sabotaging your work.”
Willpower, as it turns out, is a finite resource. Studies have shown that our ability to make good decisions is not an endless well. Think about it: Have you ever eaten healthy all day only to binge on chips that night?
How many times have you told yourself you’d write when you get home from work, only to have Netflix take over your life? Willpower can run out throughout the day. If you’re the type of person who needs a full tank of willpower to get writing, maybe the morning’s for you.
And of course, others strongly believe in burning the midnight oil. Here are some of the reasons why:
Your tired brain is actually more creative. While this may seem entirely counterintuitive, recent studies have found a link between creativity—greater insight in problem solving performance—and a foggy brain. Ron Friedman, Ph.D., author of The Best Place to Work, suggests when your mind is fatigued, you’re less able to block out what may seem like unassociated ideas, therefore connecting more thoughts and increasing your creative capacity.
Creating at night can take the pressure off. When developing creative work in the morning, most likely there’s a quickly approaching deadline. Whether it’s class, work or other daily tasks that take you away from your creative projects, it can make the process seem truncated, leaving you with unfinished thoughts.
While some creatives favor the idea of a morning deadline, other writers love the ability to write into the night, uninterrupted. And Neil Patel—digital marketer and founder of companies such as KISSmetrics and Quick Sprout—cites evidence suggesting when you’re not in a hurry to finish other work, you’re more able to become emotionally involved in your creative endeavors.
It’s your time. With no kids to prepare for school and no work emails to return, the night allows you to finally focus on you. Many creatives find night to be almost a magical time to go inward and create. In a NY Mag article, author Kathryn Schulz discusses her love of night writing:
For the first time all day, I get interested in writing. As a corollary, I get a lot less interested in everything else. My normal indiscipline, the ADHD-ish inability to keep my head inside my work, finally drops away. For the next few hours, I write steadily, cleanly. If my body is producing a drug during that time, it is a natural methylphenidate—a dose of pure focus, side-effect-free and sweet.
Find Your Time
Still not sure what time of day boosts your creativity? Try a few experiments: Spend one night creating work and then try the same thing a few mornings later. Ask yourself which session felt most productive and creatively fulfilling.