Switching Between Tasks Promotes Creative Thinking

Do you ever feel like you’re forced to be creative even when your brain is completely drained? Do you find that it’s harder to be creative on command, as opposed to when your mind is wandering and you have free time? If so, then you’re not alone. Recent reports have discovered the power of switching tasks, daydreaming, and resting to improve your creativity and keep your brain sharp — even when you’re on a tight deadline.

Switching Tasks Leads to Better Problem Solving

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Image via Flickr by olgaberrios

A recent study conducted by the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and reported by the Harvard Business Review found that the way you tackle tasks can affect how productive and creative you are. Participants were given two problems and asked to solve them under three different situations:

●  Group 1: Participants spent half of the time on one subject and half of the time on the other.

●  Group 2: Participants switched between the two at their leisure.

●  Group 3: Participants switched between the two after intervals were set by the survey procedures.

While most people said they would have preferred to switch at their leisure because it provides more flexibility and autonomy (and is most likely what they do at the office), the third group actually performed the best and managed to solve both problems more than the others. This led scientists to wonder what makes setting specific intervals more effective than the other two methods?

Why Does Changing Tasks Lead to Enhanced Creativity?

Researchers within the study speculate that when people are asked to perform creative tasks, they box themselves into dead ends without realizing it. They might not be able to come up with a solution, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying to work through it. This can be frustrating and taxing on the brain.

Meanwhile, participants who had to focus on a different task had to clear their brains of information and focus on the new challenge at hand. When they returned to the initial task, they were able to view the challenge from a fresh perspective and relearn the different elements that helped them solve problems.

An additional reason some participants might have had more success than others is that the time limit tested them and forced them to come up with quick solutions. There wasn’t time to disprove a hypothesis or research a topic because they needed to focus on the task at hand. This is important information to keep in mind as you pursue your online communication degree, as creativity is a core component of your chosen line of work.

How Long Should You Focus on a Task?

Switching between tasks might seem like a good idea, but it often leaves people wondering how much they can work on something before they should switch. If marketers switch too often, they could become less productive because they never get work done in the time allowed. However, if there’s too much time between different tasks then it diminishes the effectiveness of switching altogether.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders at Fast Company reported that two hours is typically the limit that people should work on something before they switch. This is particularly true for dense tasks that require a lot of thought or repetitive tasks that require concentration. If they expand their time frames to three or four hours, then they’re likely to get burned out on the task. Even returning to the same task after taking a break can result in burnout if you’ve been working for four hours and don’t have adequate rest. Try to limit whatever task you’re working on before changing up your projects in order to keep your mind fresh and active.

How Marketers Can Tap Into Creative Breaks

Marketers work in a highly creative field where they often have to come up with solutions or ideas on rapidly-approaching deadlines. There are a few ways they can tap into this study to improve performance in the workplace and come up with creative solutions under pressure. A few examples include:

●  Setting hard-stops on projects and only working on them in short bursts.

●  Switching between projects multiple times per day instead of focusing on one thing.

●  Setting up creative “power windows” in which you brainstorm as many creative solutions in a short time period and then review them later.

Not all of these ideas will work for your office and your particular productivity style; however, by testing them as better creative solutions, you can learn what works and what doesn’t. By honing these skills, you can condition your time in the office to maximize productivity, even if you have a long list of tasks ahead of you.

Your Brain Also Responds to Downtime and Breaks

If you’re unable to switch tasks or find that changing your focus actually hinders your problem-solving skills, consider trying a few other methods to trigger creative thinking. One option is to step away from your desk altogether and take a break. Have you ever noticed that your best ideas come in the shower or during your work commute? This isn’t a coincidence.

According to Thomas Oppong writing for Inc., skipping breaks can lead to exhaustion and burnout. When you stop focusing on solving a problem and let your mind wander, you’re more likely to come up with better solutions. Essentially, when you put pressure on yourself to solve a problem, you’re so focused on the pressure you can’t come up with solutions.

Try to get up from your desk the next time you’re facing a creative challenge, and walk around the office building or complete a mindless task such as washing dishes or shredding papers. You might find that giving yourself this mental break provides the inspiration you needed all along.

When you pursue a Master of Communication Management, you can learn the necessary skills for developing creative solutions and how to manage a team of employees who need to be creative along with you. It’s hard to teach creativity and inspire it in others, but with the right know-how and openness to trying new things, you can be successfully creative in your field.