For all of the info that’s out there on productive people’s routines and habits, there’s one quality, in particular, that highly successful and creative individuals are known to share. And that’s an understanding of the value of scheduling themselves breaks.
This, according to research conducted by professors from MIT and Columbia Business School and published by the Harvard Business Review. Writing for HBR, researchers found that when attempting to solve problems that require creativity, most folks reach a dead end without realizing it.
That’s because these individuals — many of whom are working within the constraints of an 8- or 9-hour work day — too often force themselves to circle around and around a problem, without allowing themselves a break during which to generate fresh ideas.
Breaks, as the researchers found, are pivotal to generating innovative ideas. But it’s not just taking breaks in general that makes a difference. It’s scheduling them.
To test this theory, the researchers randomly assigned participants to different problem-solving approaches. One group was given two problems to solve and told that they could switch back and forth between the two problems whenever they wanted.
A second group spent the first half of their allotted time on the first problem and the latter half on the second. And a third group switched back and forth between the two problems along a schedule of regular, fixed intervals.
The third group, the researchers found, was significantly likelier to find the correct answer to both problems. Not only that, but the first group, who switched back and forth between problems purely at their own volition, had the poorest performance.
Why was this case? Because most people can’t self-identify when their thinking has become rigid.
“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 researchers wrote. “While they might have felt that they were on a roll, the reality was that, without the breaks afforded by continual task switching, their actual progress was limited.”
Essentially, if you’re spending any amount of time on completing a specific task or solving a certain problem, your thinking will at some point become significantly less creative. But you won’t realize it when it does. The most successful and highly creative people realize this, and schedule themselves breaks accordingly.
By switching back and forth between ideas and problems at regular intervals, their creativity is less likely to plateau. In the end, it’s another point of proof that there may be something to the whole time blocking craze.
This article first appeared on FairyGodBoss.