What is the best time of day to be creative?

Jul 31, 2017
Content Marketing

Working at a creative agency, we see a huge range of people walk through our doors: from photographers and actors, through to bankers and mining professionals. What they all have in common is an interest in getting their project off the ground. Some feel inspired and full of ideas, while others feel overwhelmed and unsure.

Whatever camp you are in, that’s no problem. For us it’s about gathering their ideas, working together to sort out what they need, and uncovering what they might not realise they need.

What I’ve found interesting is that some people seem to be firing on all cylinders when others would rather lay their head on the desk, but the next time you see them it’s the opposite. Aside from just natural day-to-day energy fluctuations, how much of it has to do with the time of day?

We all have certain times of the day that we function better. Let’s look at problem-solving. You might’ve assumed that as a morning person, you’d naturally do better at coming up with different, creative approaches first thing in the morning when you’re fresh. And, conversely, a night owl would excel at the same task at night. But this doesn’t appear to be the case.

Problem-solving and creativity

Researchers studying problem-solving techniques at The University of Michigan uncovered an interesting finding: we are most creative and have greater insights when we are at our non-optimal time of day.

The researchers asked 428 people to complete three insight (creative) problems and three analytical problems, and randomly assigned them to either an early or later session. Those who said they were early birds did far better on insight problems later on, and night owls did better earlier in the day.

Analytical problem-solving, however, was superior during the participant’s optimal time of day. So morning people performed better at analytical tasks in the morning, and night people performed better at those tasks at night.

 If you’re curious and want to tackle some the problems yourself, look up the ‘water lily problem’ (insight) and the ‘flower maths problem’ (analytical). And if you want to know if you’re a night owl or a morning person, forget the fluff quizzes online; you can find out what type you are with the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich here.


Night owls and early birds

You can’t help if you are a night or a morning person. It comes down to genetic predisposition of your circadian rhythm.

 Your circadian rhythm fluctuates during the day. You have a very strong sleep drive between two and four o’clock in the morning, and a smaller one between one and three in the afternoon. If you are an early bird, this might shift a few hours earlier and if you’re a night owl, it may shift a few hours back. Read more about this at the National Sleep Foundation’s website.

If you are able to work with or around your natural rhythm, that’s fantastic. When there’s a project that demands creative or unusual insight, schedule meetings or brainstorming sessions around your optimal time. We don’t all have the luxury of this though, so you need to take advantage of other techniques. Check out our article, ‘Guaranteed Ways to Unleash Your Inner Creative Beast’ here.

If you’d like to inject some “ah-ha!” moments into your work, Lush is here to help. We have a team of creatives who know how to get the best out of you at all times of day. Contact us about your project.