To get your mental engine humming, ignore conventional advice.

Want to unlock your inner da Vinci? Many oft-repeated ideas about kickstarting the creative process conflict directly with proven techniques. If mind maps, brainstorming, and free association have led to nothing more exciting than a run to Staples to buy more paper, it’s time to rethink your routine. Recent research finds that you can bust your creative funk if you:

Mary DiduchMary Diduch is a staff writer at The (Bergen) Record newspaper in New Jersey. She has covered a variety of municipalities there since 2013. In 2014, she was named Rookie of the Year by two press groups in the state. Before that, she served as an editorial assistant on the business desk. She earned undergraduate degrees in journalism and political science in 2012 from Rutgers University, where she served as editor-in-chief of the award-winning student paper, The Daily Targum. She also wrote a thesis that examined how the press covers suicide.

Editor: Nadeem Noor

…are sleepy. If you’re usually a morning person, try writing your novel at night. While alertness is crucial to cracking straightforward problems like math equations, creative tasks require big and non-specific thinking. When your tired brain wanders, it can make random connections that might jump-start your next idea, reports a recent study in Thinking and Reasoning.

…plan ahead. Eureka? Not exactly. Inspiration doesn’t usually strike spontaneously. In fact, improving time management can fuel creativity, finds a study from the Technical University of Crete in Greece. Setting aside specific creative time in the day reduces stress and carves out a space where ideas can flourish, says study coauthor Leonidas Zampetakis.

…butt heads. Don’t shy away from arguments. Embracing conflict often leads to novel thinking. To resolve a paradox, you’ll be forced to think outside the box. “Instead of feeling pressure or stress, recognize the potential in making sense of contradictions,” says Harvard University negotiation expert Francesca Gino.

…ditch the library. A bit of background noise can enhance creativity, reports a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. But don’t blast the television just yet: Too much noise impairs our ability to process information. To promote abstract thinking, we need just the right amount of distraction—about the volume level you would find in a café.



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