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Brainhack by Neil Pavitt

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41 Think When You're Tired

“There is a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy……where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these ‘fancies' only when I am upon the very brink of sleep . . .”

Edgar Allan Poe

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Whichever you are, you probably think the most productive time would be the morning if you're an early bird or the end of the day if you're a night owl. Well, yes and no. It depends what type of work you're doing.

If it were analytical work that requires a focused brain, you'd be right. But if it's more of a creative problem and requires more lateral thinking, you're at your best when you're not at your best. If you're tired, your brain is not so good at focusing on a task or filtering out distractions. Your mind will wander more and therefore you'll be far more likely to create new connections and come up with unexpected ideas.

Professor Mareike Wieth from Albion College, Michigan, discovered this in a study looking at the optimal time for creativity. She said, “People intuitively know there are certain times of the day when they are better at certain tasks, but I've always wanted to test that.”

So with her colleague Rose Zacks, they got 428 students to fill in a questionnaire to find out whether they were “morning people” or “evening people”. It's a standard psychological questionnaire featuring questions such as, “Approximately what time would you get up if you were entirely free ...

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