Better than getting some light Zzzs.

I work best in the morning. I’m creative, focused, energized, articulate and a great listener. I’m pretty good around lunch and shortly thereafter. At 4pm, my brain just stops. I may be in a meeting with you and I will see your mouth moving…but trust me I am only absorbing half of what you say. If you’re wordy, it’s okay as my brain is just editing. But if you’re a bottom line talker, I’ll have to work to stay alert. It’s always bothered me that I can’t stay as sharp after 4pm. Even in a time zone change, my brain’s strengths and weaknesses are consistent.

I looked into this phenomenon, which I seem to share with many colleagues and clients. And here is what I found, according to a team at the University of Rochester Medical Center for Translational Neuromedicine.

“The brain uses sleep to clean away waste toxins that have collected during the day. The brain uses the time we spend asleep to remove all the waste that builds up when we are awake, much like a “garbage removal system. And they now believe this waste removal system is one of the fundamental reasons for why we sleep.”

Okay, so by 4pm I need sleep because my brain is toxic? Is it as simple as sleep? If I sleep more, can I get past 4pm as alert and aware as I am at 10am? I’m not sure, as I think I get enough sleep already. I think the real problem is I don’t let my brain rest in “other ways.” Sleep may be one solution but if you are thinking about research and analysis, marketing strategy, brand concepts, logo designs and more when you go to bed, how can you truly cleanse your brain?

So I found other options. And they seem to work. To really exercise my creativity and ensure I’m at the top of my game, I have found the following to be helpful.

  1. Get a coloring book and the biggest box of crayons you can find. Just color—inside the lines, outside the lines, use the ugliest colors you can (because we don’t do that in the design world) and use the prettiest. Just don’t use corporate colors. The best part of the new coloring books is they also have stickers. Use those stickers for your business folders and notebooks. When you are in a meeting it will remind you how creative you felt and how clear your mind was when you were just coloring.
  2. Instead of sitting at your computer all day, go outside. Take a few deep breaths, put your face in the sun (since Spring is near, so should the sun be) and just stretch. If you have time, play some 4-square, shoot some hoops or blow some bubbles. Yes, bubbles. Let them float off into the sky and ponder how long they’ll last before they pop. You can’t rush the bubbles, so you can’t rush your mind.
  3. Buy colored chalk. Make sure you have it handy so when you do take an outside break, play hangman with a colleague, draw hopscotch and play the game just like you did as a child. Or draw 10 circles and make objects out of the circles. No pressure, it’s just like coloring outside or stretching the time you take to be outside. It’s outdoor freedom.
  4. Find a nearby park, lie in the grass and look at the sky. What do you see? Are their clouds that transform as time passes? You bet there are—so relax and enjoy watching the changing of the shapes. If it’s a clear blue sky and there are no clouds, then lie under a tree and watch the leaves move as the wind pushes them out of their typical resting place. Be still and let the world move around you.
  5. Jump rope. It works for everyone. Go slow, go fast, cross your arms and try the tricks that come with being creative with a single piece of rope. When you trip, good for you! You’ve pushed yourself out of the easy zone of just jumping.

That’s it. Go back to your childhood when your mind was open, you explored and you were not restricted by anything other than your own imagination. You’ll wake up refreshed, you’ll be more creative all day long and the clock won’t matter as much it at all. You’ll collapse like a child who has utilized every minute of the day and is being forced to go to sleep because it’s nighttime and not because you are tired.

Robin Zvonek

P.S. Need some tips on how to foster creativity in the workplace? Check out our white paper, Fostering Creativity to Bolster the Bottom Line.