Recharging the Creative Mind: How Rest Fuels Innovation

Recharging the Creative Mind: How Rest Fuels Innovation

Sandwiched between Christmas and the New Year, the Atlantic recently coined these 7 days “Dead Week: The Best Week of the Year. The writer calls it, "a blank space... the only time of year when it feels possible, and even encouraged, to do nothing." 

As a business dedicated to productivity, we embrace the opportunity to do nothing. Why? In our always-on modern life of output and speed, productivity is often measured by continuous work and minimal downtime. Yet, this approach overlooks a critical component of both creativity and efficiency: the power of rest.

To actually maximize productivity AND maintain both mental and physical health, rest is not just beneficial; it’s essential. Science proves rest is a necessity for fostering innovation and energy.

The Brain on Rest - A Catalyst for Creativity The idea that our best ideas come to us when we're relaxed isn't just anecdote; it's backed by science. Research led by Zedelius and Schooler (2015) found that mind-wandering, a common occurrence during rest, can lead to moments of creative insight, or 'aha' moments. This diffused mode of thinking, as opposed to the focused mode we engage in during active work, allows our brain to make unique connections and come up with innovative solutions.

How many of your best ideas come in the shower?

Sleep and Creativity - Dreaming Up Solutions Sleep is not just for physical rejuvenation; it's a necessity for creative thinking. In a study by Cai et al. (2009), REM sleep was shown to enhance associative thinking—a key component of creativity. During REM, the brain reorganizes and consolidates memories, often leading to novel ideas and solutions upon waking. For those maximizing productivity, prioritizing quality sleep is not just good health advice; it's a strategy for innovative thinking.

Too much caffeine in the afternoon can disrupt your natural sleep cycle.

Downtime and Mental Energy - Refueling for Efficiency The adage “less is more” applies aptly to mental productivity. Ariga and Lleras (2011) demonstrated that brief mental breaks can prevent vigilance decrement—a fancy term for the decline in attention seen over prolonged work periods. These short breaks help to refuel your mental energy, ensuring that your focus and efficiency are maintained throughout your workday.

Try not to schedule back to back meetings, but give yourself a 5-15 minute window between each one. Your brain will better absorb the work you just did and be better prepared to absorb what's ahead.

Nature and Creativity - The Great Outdoors as a Muse Don't underestimate the power of a walk in the park. Immersion in natural settings, as researched by Atchley, Strayer, and Atchley (2012), can significantly boost creative reasoning. The tranquility and visual stimulation provided by natural environments can reduce stress and enhance cognitive function. Incorporating time outdoors is not just a break from work; it’s an opportunity to rejuvenate your creative faculties.

Try to get outside for at least 20 minutes a day.

Take the down time.

Rest, sleep, and leisure are not just antidotes to burnout; they are the bedrock of creative and efficient thinking. By embracing these elements, you are not shirking responsibility; you are equipping yourself with the tools needed for high-level creative problem-solving and sustained productivity. As we navigate a world that often praises busyness over effectiveness, remember that the most innovative ideas may come when you least expect them - during your moments of rest.


  1. Zedelius, C. M., & Schooler, J. W. (2015). Mind wandering “Ahas” versus mindful reasoning: alternative routes to creative solutions. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 834.
  2. Cai, D. J., Mednick, S. A., Harrison, E. M., Kanady, J. C., & Mednick, S. C. (2009). REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(25), 10130-10134.
  3. Ariga, A., & Lleras, A. (2011). Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 118(3), 439-443.
  4. Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PloS one, 7(12), e51474.
  5. Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), 1142.

By integrating these practices into your routine, you can strike a balance between productivity and well-being, ensuring that your work is not only effective but also sustainable in the long run.

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