How to Find Your Peak Creation Windows

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Damned if this stuff doesn’t work…

I’ve been studying the relationship between natural attention and cognition cycles, creativity and productivity for years. I know the data. But, being the cobbler’s kid, never really took the time to pay serious attention to my own organic attention and cognition cycles and then shift my working efforts to leverage these rhythms.

Big, honking mistake.

Coming home from a week in Boulder over the summer that led to a lot of rethinking, I decided to spend a few months completely retooling my own life-optimization, work and creation processes through a serious of experiments.

One of the first ones was paying attention to what times of day I’m most organically creative and productive. Identifying when kick-ass stuff literally cascades out of me. And also when I can’t drum up a half decent thought to save my life.

Within a few days, I’d verified what I already intuitively knew. Mornings are peak creation times for me (and for many people). Three to 5ish, not so much. And, I have an evening creation cycle that could potentially be insanely productive (except that it totally conflicts with my desire to be present with the family).

I picked up on this when I was working on my last book. And I structured my days to leverage these windows to create huge amounts of content in a very short period of time.

But once the book was in, I drifted away from that schedule.

I’d still roll out of bed, meditate, hang out with the wife and kiddo for a bit, then move my body first thing in the morning. But then, without being deliberate about it, I’d spend the next 3-4 hours on email, social media, phone calls and other yadda yadda. Awful, terrible, no good decision-by-default.

Using peak creation cycles for email stifles innovation, performance and progress.

I was inadvertently doing maintenance and production work during the window where I should’ve been in hardcore creation mode. By the time I’d roll into late morning/early afternoon, my organic hyper-creation window was cycling down and I nothing left to do the work that makes me come alive and that people most value. Malaise would set it. I found it harder and harder to come up with ideas, new posts and solutions when structured my day this way.

So, I responded by making a simple shift. I still do check my email after I get done meditating or exercising (shhhh, don’t tell). But, it’s a quick scan and, unless there’s a true emergency, I step away from email, twitter, facebook and pretty much anything else that beeps, vibrates or taunts me to respond. And I sit down to create. Blog posts, copy, art, multimedia content, the mode doesn’t matter as long as it’s all about ideation and output.

Not only did my creative output return, but my idea list exploded along with my output (which raises the whole other challenge of entrepreneurial ADD).

So, here’s your takeaway…

Pay attention to your organic Peak Creation Windows!

We all have them, along with other windows where tweets, conversations and emails are about the only thing we’re capable of doing. If you don’t already intuitively know when your peak creation windows are, run an experiment.

For a few days at a time, try moving your creative efforts into different windows throughout the day and see how you respond. Spend a few days with your revised schedule so you can really gather good data and also rule out aberrant events that might fool you into confusing peak creation and admin/productivity windows. Then shift your task windows to leverage your peak creation windows. Take note of how easily ideas and solutions flow at each time.

If you work for yourself, this is easy to do. But, interestingly, it’s also pretty easy when you work for someone else. Nobody forces you to read your email and blast through admin stuff first thing in the morning. For most people, it just becomes their default mode. It’s just as easy to spend time in ideation and creation mode. For the most part, the world will wait, especially after you “mysteriously” start churning out extraordinary work with less effort in less time.

But…yes, there’s always a but…what if you have kids?

Here’s where it gets interesting. As I mentioned above, I noticed that I also have a second Peak Creation Window late in the evening. When I was in law school, I’d often study from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.. My brain drops back into that hyper-focused, other-worldly creation state again during that window. And I also tend to have a window from about 7pm to 9pm. But, with rare exception (launch mode), I don’t leverage these windows because if I did, I’d be taking time away from family and be a mess in the morning.

Because my greatest creation is the connection I cultivate with the people I adore.

What about you? When are your Peak Creation Windows?

Share them in the comments below…

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35 responses

35 responses to “How to Find Your Peak Creation Windows”

  1. Jim says:

    Oh…I’ve been a “Lark” all my life, so early am is best for all kinds of work… creative and non-creative too.

    In fact, for me, there is a subtle power in knowing that I am up working while most around me are still sleeping.

    This works now, as a writer / coach / video maker. But it also worked when I was a young tennis pro, up early running hills and getting stronger.

    About the only thing I can say about the “Owls” who work better later is that they have more fun in clubs and at parties…’cause I’m fading by they time they get into the swing of things.

    ==>Jim

  2. Sarah Yost says:

    Love this! I’m going to refer clients to this post. I already send them to Charlie Gilkey’s map your productivity heatmapping info. I’m with you on the morning cycles. One of my challenges is that I want to do all of my stuff in the morning during my peak focus/creation time.

    The best schedule for me right now is meditation, creation, kid time, then exercise mid-morning. That evening thing you talked about is interesting. My evenings are full of family and other interactions. I’m going to dial in and pay attention to what happens to my creative focus then.

  3. Chet says:

    Good stuff here. There are parts of the day that constantly seem “unproductive” for me – perhaps I should stop trying to force myself into a particular mode at that time and instead find what DOES work.

  4. Yeah, it’s very much a real thing! I wrote a post about this at PJP some time ago. It’s not just creativity, though – we have natural rhythms/cycles for all kinds of energy, including creative, physical, intellectual and emotional. Finding out when those cycles naturally occur and then implementing & scheduling work accordingly can produce a huge boost in our ability to … y’know, produce.

  5. […] Using peak creation cycles for email stifles innovation, performance and progress.  Read more Jonathan Fields here. […]

  6. Lisa Hart says:

    I’ve found that morning is the right time for me and creativity…although, like you, I get a second wind late at night — and late late at night during law school, although now not so much. Of course, that’s your point: to experiment with what actually works now, rather than assume it needs to look or be a particular way. I tend to fall into the emails first thing in the a.m. which can really derail me. I have noticed that gym mid morning feels good, so I am going to experiment with using the morning for creative time and noon for admin. It will take something to wait until noon.. so we’ll see how that goes! Just the conversation around mixing it up is a great reminder. Thank you!

  7. So it seems you and Chris Brogan were drinking the same coffee this morning! Both of you have basically informed me that I need ignore my phone/email/facebook to become more productive. I think it’s a sign!

    My question to you: Do you actually schedule this time? Do you have a big piece of paper that says, “Don’t check email now!” on your computer?

    I think it is something that, at least initially, is easier said than done. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thanks!

  8. Ahh, the default mode of getting through emails, texts, calls in the mornings. You know me so well! I think I just automatically turn to this in case someone needs something from my biz. Or it might be a distraction. Then a whole hour or two goes by and productivity is down the tubes by the time 1 pm hits for me. I also realized that I need to have snacks or at least eat every 3 hours to keep my mind focused and working. So my goal is to do my creative work right when my brain is ready in the mornings, keep my body fueled, and go for it! Thanks for this post…such a great reminder for me!

  9. Patty Soffer says:

    Glad you put this out there in English for all to comprehend. Often we think about these things but unless we voice them, often they don’t take root.

    I too am at peak creativity in the morning. I find when I start early, particularly when writing a book or some other involved document that takes total creative focus, or when learning something new, that if I get my creative start at peak time, I can be in the zone for hours. If I mess around and miss my creative jump start, my creative day is either shorter or shot.

    My biggest lesson has been to learn to step away from the computer when my creativity is in the toilet. There is still that urge to keep on keepin’ on, when the better thing to do is to go for a walk or enjoy some other communion with nature which, guess what, leads to more creativity!

  10. Srinivas says:

    Hey Jonathan.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I spend a good amount of time thinking about this. I’ve found that sometimes it can be hard not to give into distractions. But I completely agree on peak creation times. For me that always seems to be right after surfing. Maybe from this point forward I’ll stop at a coffee shop after a surf and write in my notebook for an hour before I drive home.

    One other thing I noticed in my own creative patterns is that they occur in short bursts and taking breaks is necessary. So yesterday, I decided to add a new component to my daily regiment. Go out and skateboard for 20 minutes every time I needed a break. I figure that will let me have some breakthroughs as well.

  11. Ash says:

    Ive read a lot about these windows as well. How do you know and specifically identify them though? Are they arbitrary? I’ve heard start with 15 minutes at any point in the day that you want this creation cycle to begin, and then after many days of consistently doing it, you’ll naturally turn that 15 minutes into a longer creation cycle because your mind expects to be in that space at that time.

  12. Cris Gladly says:

    Ohhhhh, yes on this. I have been tooling with this for the last month or so. I have not found my stride yet but I’m getting clearer on where my stronger windows are. BUT, just as you did, I find myself answering email and such in those windows and eating up peak focus point time on not-important stuff. Still working out the kinks but totally agree, this is a crucial part of mastering the creative life.

    🙂

  13. Greetings Jonathan!

    I have been recieving your insights by email for a few weeks now & I have enjoyed ALL of them. But this one, is of special interest to me, because like you, I write in a way that seeks out how I can take advantage of my peak times of creativity. As a result, I am convinced that the observance of natural time via the seasonal & cyclically repetive Lunation & Circadian tides of sun & moon are invaluable. And I have developed an approach that assists people in filling in the gaps of them in evey area of life. These, in my writings I have associated with the Law of Periodicity which is part of a four-fold part of what I describe on my own blog about what I have calledthe ASoP (A String of Pearls) Philosophy which experientially I have intuited in what I have also coined the phrase the Doctrine of Living the Lunar Life. I have created a mandala based on the moon’s phases, digits and the degrees of its mansions. It is like a clock, a blueprint or paradigm that I believe that when used with certain other lunar-centered tools that I share that I have used, cann attune the body mind and spirit to its natural cycles.

    Finally, this system is thus made up of 7 areas of study that include lunar journaling, lunar yoga, lunar cosmology, lunar astrology, and experientially interpreted lunar divination. i see some of the same peak times that you do @ play in my life as a result of this. But I think I have discovered just how to put into words a stream of blurbs or a string of pearls if you wish, that flows from my morning creative posts when I tweet that I later reintegrate into a set of blog texts, supplemented later with graphic images and helpful instructions that have more meat.

    Thank you for this! Again, I truly enjoyed this & your other posts!

    Love & Light

    J.Z. Amennun (aka “^SEHU?!.”

  14. Victor Reynolds says:

    My creative time is in the evening: between 6 pm and midnight. As a photographer that produces interesting opportunities for creativity.

    As the married father of a four-year old who has responsibilities outside the home, nighttime helps-especially when everyone else is settled down.

  15. I needed to read this today — it confirms a practice I just put into place! My peak creation times seem to be the first couple hours of the morning and then again in the later part of the evening. But until recently I wasn’t scheduling the “big, important stuff” (which for me is generally content creation) into these 2 windows, just kind of willy-nilly powering through my action items list throughout the day.

    But just last night I finally set up a Google calendar, first scheduling the content creation time into 2-3 hour blocks throughout the week, then adding everything else around that.

    We’ll see how it goes! 🙂

    Thanks for an inspiring read.

  16. Heather Holm says:

    Very timely, as this post crystallizes where my mind was going on this Monday morning.

    I notice times of day, entire days and even phases when I’m drawn to do different kinds of work. There are times when I’m happy to do menial text edits, other times when I’m able to solve complex technical issues and still other times when the visual creative stuff comes more easily.

    There’s also the complication of weather and the garden’s needs, food and its effects on energy and alertness – with special attention to coffee, sugar and food sensitivities – so many variables that are different for each person.

    It’s important to pay attention to one’s own rhythms, find out what they are, and use them to maximize efficiency.

    It also allows us to increase happiness by reducing stress, by not demanding ourselves to do certain things at the wrong time.

  17. Thanks, this was an important reminder and food for thought. Of course sometimes an activity can override our natural creative inclination, if it is rewarding enough. As a coach for couples, I help them determine shared time for scheduled, intimate connection. My husband’s a lark & I’m an owl so we’ve had to negotiate for a time we’re both willing to show up for – even though it’s only ten minutes a day!

  18. Johannes says:

    Right now I should be creating, now lollygagging on Google+

    Anyways, I think my peak creation windows are from 11 AM to 1PM, and if I can’t fall asleep at night because of too many good ideas from 11PM until 2AM.

  19. Great article Jonathan. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately too. If you consider the word expression to be a synonym for creation, then the formats become immensely variable. For example, expression can be writing or drawing or painting or connecting or cooking or dancing or any other activity that feeds your soul. What I find interesting is that the need to connect as a form or expression or cook as a form of nutrition simultaneously becomes self-care. So, you often have to give time to expression for means outside the business context in order to fuel your creativity engine for biz purposes. A life filled with creative expression quickly becomes full and dynamic effortlessly. Wouldn’t it be something if we could all feed the soul and our pocketbooks through expression and creation?

  20. Shannon says:

    I’m a morning person, too.

    I keep having great “ideas” at 5 am…maybe due to being up with a child. The later “ideas” come out of play time and reading books time with her.

    So, what if I have just cracked my own code…I am creating children’s oriented stuff because that’s what’s in my life at those times? What if I accepted that, dove in, and started that children’s theater I dream of??

    Hmmmmm…

  21. Timely post for me, Jonathan. 8pm to 2 am is my creation perfection. However, I’ve just begun an 18 month hospice- like training that requires considerably more time in meditation every day. The only way that’s going to happen is if I get up very early and do it first thing in the morning. (My golden hours for meditation.) I’m trying to rewire my organic timing, and wondering if / how that can be done?

  22. Oooh, I really needed to see this today, thank you Jonathan. Two weeks ago my computer stopped working and while it was in getting repaired, I noticed I got so much more important/creative work done. This kind of shocked me being a writer and thinking that I ‘needed’ my computer.

    What I bet I will discover when I try this practice this week, is that it wasn’t so much the switching to pen & paper that got my creativity flowing, but rather going straight from meditation to writing in the morning versus the email, social media routine you described. Using those peak creative times consciously is exciting… Can’t wait to see how this goes!

  23. Anne in Alaska says:

    A gentle suggestion: Try reworking that family time to enhance creativity among all.
    Use that after dinner time for ideation with your kids – play with Legos, work on a craft together, invent a new game with a soccer ball, use scrap paper or computer graphic program to create cards and posters.
    Show them what pursuing ideas is like, Help them do more than they think they can. Make memories.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Anne,

      Great suggestion. In fact, that’s already very much part of the mix. We’re big time crafters, makers, painters, jewelers and beyond!

  24. I’ll have to pay more attention to this, but my gut says I’m better in the late evening to very early morning. The only problem is I currently have a day job, so that kind of schedule doesn’t work too well. I have to try and shoehorn my future-oriented, I-want-to-quit-my-job projects into non-creative periods of time and it doesn’t work very well. But I do try to recognize when it ain’t gonna happen vs it’ll happen if I just try a bit harder and do the best I can.

  25. Tahlee says:

    This pretty much sums up my Peak Creation Window…

    “I’m not a morning person. I’m not a night owl. But I can rock 11:30am like nobody’s business.”

  26. Robert Chen says:

    I find that I can get into flow from 11pm to 3am and I struggle to stop because I feel more energized by the work that I do during that time. I’ve been trying to sleep earlier and to wake up earlier to see if I can replicate the same window in the early morning hours but it isn’t going to well.

    Great post!

    Have you ever read Cycles by Edward R. Dewey and Og Mandino?

  27. My times are similar to most, early in the morning or late in the evening…usually I find not only is the morning the best time, but if I’m writing, I am the most inspired by sitting in random coffee shops. Something about watching people that really stirs up ideas!

  28. Tammy says:

    Thank you for this article! It’s a comfort to know I’m not making this stuff up. I have found 11pm – 3am to be my peak hours. The problem? I am often a zombie in the morning. Last week I played around with waking up at 5am to see if I could create BEFORE the rest of my family wakes up…so far, no good. Mid-morning I have another creative burst but this is right when I am supposed to be working my day job. Looks like I’ll have to find a way to maximize that 11pm time slot.

  29. Jaky says:

    Peak creation window is actually a myth based on repetitive happening of a consecutive phenomena. If an aspect of your behavior changes, the window will change too. Jonathan, study yourself for a decade more and you’ll think you just banged right into wrong windows many times.

    Creation window changes with alterations in your routine. And who in the world follows a same routine every single day? Are we machines?

  30. Mags says:

    Thanks so much for the reminder! Early mornings are my best time probably 5am to 9am, with a slow decline towards lunchtime. At the moment, this time is being seriously eroded by my routine. I always pray first thing, which is fine, but the timing of everything is dictacted by my commute – leave home about 6:30, get to work about 7:15, and only really get down to creative work at about 8 after email and scanning the news. I’ll need to rethink this.
    Thanks!

  31. I know I’m more productive in the morning…BEFORE the rest of the world wakes up.
    I’ll often go to bed with my 5.5 year old son, about 8:30 or 9pm. Well, as often as possible. Then I’ll set my alarm for 4:30 or 5am and have some quiet, focused work time before my kid and the rest of the world gets up.

  32. I didn’t read this until today and it completely hit home for me. My husband just got home from work and noted how down I seemed. I realize now that it’s because I spent ALL of my peak creation time energy on mundane tasks. AHHH the lightbulb has gone off and I feel re-energized just by reading this one article.

    Thanks a ton, Jonathan!

  33. Kim Marshall says:

    Great to remember this… so easy to get in a rut- and I’ve been in the wrong one!

    “Mornings are for focus; afternoons for efficiency.” (Caroline Hall) I had been living in reverse, the Mom side of me staying in details mode through the best creating part of my day.

    Now I’m experimenting; up at 4;30 to write, writing past bedtime – pushing the envelop of a well-contained day, and finding writing less contained.

    thank you Jonathan!

    Kim