Since the start of remote work operations, the internet has been inundated with productivity hacks.
Although many of these are backed by numerous testimonials, journalist, and entrepreneur Steven Kotler recently made a compelling argument in favor of scheduled downtime. The TED speaker also provides several academic sources that corroborate the strength of his method.
“The term “hacking” has a bad name. It comes out of coding and refers to someone trying to gain control over a computer system, typically for nefarious purposes. The word then morphed a bit, becoming pop-culture shorthand for a “quick fix” or a “shortcut,” Kotler wrote in a blog post.
“When I use a term like “hacking” to describe an approach, what I’m really saying is “figuring out how to get your neurobiology to work for you rather than against you.” That’s long been my approach to high achievement.”
The post goes on to identify three different approaches to maintaining creativity in spite of fixed routines.
1.Befriend your brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC): The ACC is the region of the brain responsible for controlling, avoiding, or regulating painful emotions. In addition to providing signals important to retaining focus.
“When we’re in a good mood, the ACC is more sensitive to odd thoughts and strange hunches. In other words, if an active ACC is the ready condition for insight, then a good mood is the ready condition for an active ACC,” Kotler continues.
There are several different ways to improve ACC function. Mindfulness and aerobic exercise are chief among these.
In a new study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, researchers from the University of Tsukuba found that aerobic exercise increases regions in the brain related to memory, focus, and comprehension.
Similarly, a recent report out of the UK concluded that participants who regularly practiced mindfulness decreased grey matter in their brain’s amygdala, which is a region known for its role in surging stress levels.
2. Understand the importance of non-time: Non-time is a technique employed by renowned thinkers— including Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, that requires subscribers to break from ridged work routines in order to make room for ingenuity.
“‘Non-time’ is my term for that vast stretch of emptiness between 4 AM (when I start my morning writing session) and 7:30 AM (when the rest of the world wakes up). This non-time is a pitch blackness that belongs to no one but me,” he writes. “The day’s pressing concerns have yet to press, so there’s time for that ultimate luxury: Patience. If a sentence takes two hours to get right, who cares?” Kotler explains.
“Pressure forces the brain to focus on the details, activating the left hemisphere and blocking out that bigger picture. Worse, when pressed, we’re often stressed. We’re unhappy about the hurry, which sours our mood and further tightens our focus. Being time-strapped, then, can be kryptonite for creativity.”
To Kotler’s credit, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah determined that participants performed 50% better on standard creativity exams after four days alone in nature.
3. Think Inside the Box: When it comes to starting a new project, Kotler believes it’s important to establish perimeters. Simarly to writing a complex novel with many characters and converging plotlines, an endeavor is more likely to be successful if its author is aware of the materials needed to see it through.
“The point is that sometimes the blank page is too blank to be useful. That’s why one of my cardinal rules in work is: Always know your starts and your endings. If I have these twin cornerstones in place, whatever goes in between — a book, an article, a speech — is simply about connecting the dots. Without dots to connect, I can get stuck or waste time wandering into tangential territory (which helps explain why my first novel took 11 years to complete),” Kotler writes.
“Earlier, I said that feeling unpressured for time was a key to fostering creativity, and this remains true. Yet it’s also true that deadlines can save creative projects from dragging on indefinitely. Just set the deadline far enough into the future so you can build long periods of non-time into your schedule. Creative deadlines should be hard enough to make you stretch, not hard enough to make you snap.”