Do you often work through your “lunchtime” and think it’s been a unique day when you had a genuine tea or coffee break? Do you work on a task until you’ve exhausted your creative ideas before moving on to another task? You are not alone!
We are accustomed to switching between tasks when we choose, when working alone. This gives us the flexibility and control, but research has proved this process is not the best way to generate ideas and creativity. In other circumstances we are accustomed to spending half an allotted time on one task and then spending the rest of the time on another task; again, although this may appear to be the most optimal use of time (such as in exams), it has been found to not generate the best ideas and creativity.
Earlier this year, a team from Columbia University* published their research on “task switching” and how changing between tasks at pre-determined times can actually produce the best creative results. Their research found specifically task switching back and forth is the most successful process to develop ideas.
The team found that when participants change task when they feel ready and not when a time is determined, they can often run out of ideas, and get stuck, becoming rigid in their thinking (cognitive fixation).
This also happened when participants divided their allotted time equally. They would produce very similar ideas but presented slightly differently, basically regenerating old ideas they had used earlier in the task without realising.
The researchers reported: “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.”
By comparison, during their various experiments, the group who switched back and forth consistently produced the best results in creativity, staying on task, and producing new ideas throughout the process.
In all their experiments, the Columbia Business School reported that the best way to stimulate ideas was to schedule the breaks from each task before commencing. Their recommendation for optimal creativity, brainstorming ideas, and developing processes is to schedule breaks from an activity and take an allotted time on a different idea.
Tips to schedule breaks and task changes during your working day:
- Maintain your daily diary and schedule phone calls, emails, meetings, and different project tasks to divide up your day so that you don’t spend several hours on one task and run out of steam.
- Either set a timer or have an alarm on your phone so that you have a clear reminder when to change task or take a tea break or lunch break.
- Set an allotted time for a lunch break and leave your desk – go for a walk, have a coffee with a colleague, eat your lunch in a different place – but make sure you have a period of time away from your task for nourishment.
- Take hydration breaks – drinking enough water is vital to maintain our brain and body to perform at its best. So schedule times to refill a water bottle and ensure you keep drinking throughout the day.
This research links well to Advance’s practices in the formation of changed thinking which stimulates new behaviour, and becomes a consistent habit. Scheduling breaks will enable you to improve your creativity and productivity and enable you to perform at your best.
Task- switching also enables the brain to continue processing your ideas in your subconscious while you complete another task. The brain continues to strengthen the dendrites of your thoughts from a previous task as you clear your desk, answer emails, or make a drink.
By maintaining scheduled periods on a task your thinking remains refreshed and your dendrites strengthen from quality creative ideas rather than becoming rigid and regenerating the same ideas.
The practice of task-switching may be a new way of working on major projects, professional and academic learning, and in developing new processes. However, it could be the way to stimulate your creativity to achieve innovative developments, increased productivity, and better job satisfaction.
Remember to manage your time wisely for improved creative thinking by scheduling breaks and switching tasks at allotted times. Be the best person you can be!
* Jackson G. Lu, Modupe Akinola, Malia F. Mason – ”Switching On ” creativity: Task switching can increase creativity by reducing cognitive fixation – Columbia University, March 2017