Enhance Creativity by Taking a Break

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Take a BreakIf you’re engaged in creative problem solving, you’re more likely to be successful when you have some downtime in which your brain is focused on something else. So allow for breaks, but understand that not all breaks are created equal. Here are three tips for taking effective breaks when you’re engaged in solving problems that require creativity.

1: Get the Timing Right – Creative problem solving requires insight, to relate things in a non-typical way or see novel ways of using them, and your mind has to be ready to receive the insight. The insight often occurs during a break away from the problem, but it requires that you’ve gathered comprehensive information about the problem and you’ve given it some thought, prior to the break. The most effective time to take a break is often when you’ve explored all possibilities and reached an impasse. If you head out for a break at the same time every day, you’re probably not making the most effective use of break time.

2: Engage in an Arousing Activity – Creative insights are more likely to occur when you’re engaged in an activity that distracts you from the work problem and keeps you emotionally stimulated. Rather than sitting around sipping coffee or taking a nap, engage in an exciting task that occupies your attention. Playful tasks, such as a game of ping pong or playing a musical instrument, are great choices because they take your mind away from the problem while keeping you emotionally energized. Make sure the break is filled with an activity that evokes positive emotions, not negative, because positivity contributes to creativity . If losing a game of ping pong makes you frustrated, choose something else (or make sure you win).

3: Diffuse Your Attention – Your ability to solve a creative problem is enhanced when you can think of expanded possibilities and connections. Breaks can free up your conscious mind to allow other possibilities to enter, but only when your attention is diffused. When you perform a cognitively demanding task, such as solving a complex brain teaser, your entire attention shifts to that task, leading to a narrow rather than diffused focus. When you’re engaged in such a task, it’s difficult for new possibilities to enter your mind. Again, playful tasks are a great choice because when you’re playing, your mind is open and wandering more freely.

As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of emotions in teams, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and achievement, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a thought leader sharing ideas on how to create a more just and peaceful world. She is also a CIO, and in this role she has led large organizations with hundreds of employees through challenging times and major transformations.
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  1. Jay Dannenmann  June 16, 2013

    Now I have a validated excuse for golfing… 🙂

  2. James Wiedeman  June 16, 2013

    Jackie, as frequently the case, you generate yet another interesting article.

  3. Peter Scott  June 16, 2013

    I have found that it is always good to have a means of capturing that amazing, insightful thoughts that pop in my head. I have used backs of envelopes, voice recorder on the phone and even a steamed up mirror once. Sometimes that perfect phrase or moment of clarity is there for an instant. It is important to have a means to capture it for later reflection and possible development.

  4. Jackie Barretta  June 16, 2013

    Peter, that’s a good point. I’ve had too many situations where the perfect phrase came to me in a flash, and then I lost it. I need to get in the habit of using the voice memo on my iphone more frequently!

  5. Ram Vittal  June 19, 2013

    Great tips.

  6. Bob Herling  June 23, 2013

    I agree – this gives you the opportunity to clear your head.

  7. Vinod Srivastava  June 23, 2013

    These are nice tips. I will follow all these tips. Thanks for nice posting,

  8. OZGE BEGUM KOC  July 19, 2013

    Extraordinary accomplishments can not be achieved by an ordinary solutions, and ‘creativity’ requires creative thinking styles. So, instead of standard working conditions (from working hours to working atmosphere), different approaches can be followed according to team members’ working and thinking styles (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, social, etc.) and the type of business.’Flexibility’ can be a key to create an opportunity, and not only conscious but also sub-conscious can be helpful in creativity. If prior figures and opinions have been evaluated enough, then creative solutions can be realized with the support of subconscious. Because, thinking so much concerning the same thing over and over again can create obstacles on the path to innovation. In a nutshell, different approaches such as slip into daydreaming etc. can be thought as a thinking and problem solving tool. However, ‘results’ play a significant role in business as always. Because of the importance of productivity and efficiency, following questions such as ‘how many times, how long, etc.’ can be shaped by obtained results and desired ones.

  9. John Farnbach  July 19, 2013

    I think I discovered this in college. I found creative solutions to problems when I was not thinking about them. But here’s a tip from my college experience: leave the beer out of it!

  10. Ridhima Jaiswal  July 19, 2013

    I think breaks helps our mind free flow and connect unconnected links giving surprises, which does not happen when we are intentionally trying to be creative. Personally I feel travelling is the best way as its not only a break from the work but also gives a change to the environment where our thoughts flourish.


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