To Be More Creative, Regularly Switch Between Tasks

If you were given two different creative tasks, you might think it would be best to work on one until you either finish or "hit a wall," work on the other one until the same point, and then head back to the first one if it needs finishing. However, according to a 2017 study from Columbia Business School, that's not the case. Instead, it's better to schedule when you switch tasks — even if you feel like you haven't hit a wall yet — to be the most creative you.

The New Switcheroo

When we're trying to complete a creative task, we tend to push forward without realizing that we've already reached a point where no fresh ideas will be found. As a result, we end up with a handful of ideas that are pretty much the exact same, switch to another project, and repeat the same mistake. In terms of creative efficiency, research says that scheduling the switch is more efficient.

Related Video: The Neuroscience of Creativity

Jackson G. Lu, Modupe Akinola, and Malia Mason of Columbia Business School asked participants to name novel uses for two objects: a toothpick and a brick. One group was instructed to come up with new uses for one object for four minutes, then switch to the other object for four minutes. Another group switched back and forth between the two objects when they felt like it, and the third switched between the objects regularly — toothpick, brick, toothpick, brick.

The third group ended up coming up with more answers that were novel and less repetitive than either of the other two groups. They also performed a second experiment that had the groups use the same switching strategies while solving word problems and puzzles. The results held: Those who regularly switched things up performed better than the other groups.

One Task, Two Tasks, Red Task, Blue Task

From this research, it's clear that giving your brain something new before it's tired of the same old task is the best approach. According to a 2011 study, the same goes for breaks. How you choose to go about this is up to you; you can set a timer (like the one recommended by the Pomodoro technique), decide to switch things up on the hour, or use meetings and lunch breaks to determine when you switch. No matter what creative endeavor you're pursuing, whether as a hobby or as a professional effort, your idea generation skills will benefit from regular breaks.

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One of the most popular books on creativity is Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way," and for good reason. Pick up a physical copy, or download the audiobook for free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mike Epifani May 24, 2017

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