Sharing is caring!

Our to-do lists tend to dictate our days. They influence when we wake up when we eat, how much time we spend with loved ones, and how much time and effort we invest at work. Throughout the day, our minds ability to be the most creative peaks and wanes.

When do you get your inspirational ideas and when can you focus to work on them? There are two opposing camps that align to the time of day (i.e. morning people or night owls). Each point to biological and social reasons that encourage creativity at both times of the day.

Most creative in the morning

Harnessing willpower

There is a large body of research that points to willpower being a limited resource. Our ability to do or not do something is a decision we make. When we do not feel inspired to create something, we have the most power in the mornings to resist the urge to go back to sleep. This effort drains us throughout the day.

Using sleep to process problems and focus on them

Sleep is another factor that helps us process problems. During this time our brain makes connections between different networks. Our subconscious helps us link ideas that we would not have considered before.

For morning people, one reason they are able to focus on one problem is that of the Prefrontal Cortex. This is a part of the brain associated with concentration and is most active. The analytic part of the brain responsible for editing has not yet hit its peak.

Creative in the evening. When are you most creative

Some people are more creative in the evening after they wear out the ‘editing’ part of their brains.

Leveraging the quiet times of the morning

I have found that if I wake up early enough, there are times when no one is looking for me. In my case, 4 A.M. is a perfect time to kick off my routine. Among other things, I add in writing and drawing to the routine at a time where I can focus on getting out a chunk of work uninterrupted.

Most creative in the evening

Understanding the Prefrontal Cortex

Do you feel an upswing in creativity in the middle of the night despite being tired from the day? Dana Leventhal writes in her article for Vice, “This is why some people feel most creative at night,” that our Prefrontal Cortex begins to slow down as sleep mode starts. Now, that the part of the brain that helps you focus is waning, your brain is free to think with less “cognitive inhibition.”

Living as a night owl

The world is hardwired to be active and productive with the sun. Embracing your creativity at night tends to throw productivity off for the next day. At least, that is how society tends to label night owls. You come into work a little later, and you take a little more time to get started after the rest of the office is cranking at 9 A.M.

Biologically, there could be a reason why your schedule is different and feel more creative at night. Daniel Kripke, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, explains that night owls could have a delayed circadian rhythm. This is the internal clock that cues the body for waking, eating, and sleeping.

Creativity when you least expect it

Recent studies have shown that regardless of how we identify ourselves, we may actually be most creative at times at our least optimal times. During our peak times of the day, we are able to focus and keep distractions out. However, Cindi May of Scientific America writes, that distractions may not be that bad.

As your ability to focus diminishes, you are actually in a space to tackle issues that require insight. You are more open to consider a broader range of ideas that you would have previously thought of as distractions.

Read more about creativity here.

Become a Patron!
Help bring more content on design and creativity by supporting the work on Patreon.

Sign up for newsletter. Get insights from other interviews as well as past transcripts.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.