Many of us consider ourselves either a morning person or a night owl — times when we feel more productive, awake and think better. However, not all types of thinking tasks fit in with what we consider the optimal time of day for us. The Creativity Post points out that creativity happens when you least expect it.
Our internal clocks dictate when our brainpower is at its peak. Those are the times when we can really concentrate and complete tasks that require working memory, which The Creativity Post calls "our flexible mental scratch pad". For morning types, this means working on demanding cognitive tasks (such as solving analytical problems) is best done early in the day. For night owls, later in the day is better.
However, when it comes to "insight problems" that require more creativity, researchers Mareike Wieth and colleagues have found that tackling problems when you're least alert (your non-optimal time) is best:
What Dr. Wieth and her colleagues did was ask volunteers to fill out a questionnaire that assessed whether they were at their best in the morning or evening (this questionnaire, by the way, is highly predictive of people's peak circadian arousal). She then invited the volunteers to the lab to solve both insight and analytic problems in either the morning (between 8:30 and 9:30 AM) or the afternoon (between 4:30 and 5:30 PM). While people did slightly better on the analytic problems during their optimal time of day, volunteers were much more likely to come up with a creative — and correct — answer to the insight problems at their self-professed non-optimal time.
This further supports other research that being drunk or sleepy can make you more creative.
So if you have to crunch numbers or reason through a problem, work at your peak circadian hours. If you need a creative boost, try the opposite time of day. See our guide to finding your creative sweet spot for a more detailed approach or take the morningness-eveningness self-assessment to find out if you're really a morning, evening or intermediate type.
Creativity Happens When You Least Expect It [The Creativity Post]