Want to be more creative? Schedule a break

Arecent Columbia University study makes the case that you’ll be more creative at work – and perhaps more refreshed in your soul – if you schedule your breaks, rather than stopping whenever you feel like it. Regular readers may recognise a theme that’s dear to me: scheduling your life is almost always a good idea, while spontaneity is overrated, and anyone who takes pride in being “a really spontaneous person” is someone to avoid. (Though that won’t be an issue: they’ll never stick to any social plans you make.) I stand by this, even in the presence of the ultimate schedule-disrupter, a six-month-old baby – because the point of a schedule isn’t to adhere to it religiously; it’s so you won’t have to decide what to do when you next find yourself with a choice in the matter. In fact, a schedule is arguably more important if your life is full of unpredictable events that require immediate attention, because you’ll feel too scattered, in those moments when the crises subside, to choose wisely. Forget carpe diem. I say carpe horarium: seize your schedule. In the new study (which I found via the Science Of Us blog), people were asked to complete a variety of problem-solving and idea-generating tasks; some switched between them on a whim, while others followed a timetable. The scheduled switchers did better across the board. The researchers argue that this is because we find it hard to tell when “cognitive fixation” sets in – when we’re no longer thinking freshly, but instead retreading old paths. Wait until it feels as if you’re no longer being creative, and you’ll probably wait until some time after you’ve already gone stale. “Participants who didn’t step away from a task at regular intervals were more likely to write ‘new’ ideas that were very similar to the last one they had written,” the authors explained in Harvard Business Review. So, “if you’re hesitant to break away because you feel that you’re on a roll, be mindful that it might be a false impression”. It’s notable, too, that the “break” in each case merely involved switching tasks. A change, it seems, really is as good as a rest – so long as you do it on schedule. Excerpt from The Guardian.

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