Why Being Organized Makes You More Creative

Disorganization is not a precondition for creativity.

Image Credits: Pixabay.com

The stereotype for creative people is that we’re disorganized. We need to roam free, like animals.

We love distractions and hate structure; want our cake and to eat it too; want to know where everything is, and at the same time, we do a wonderful job making sure to never put something back in its proper place.

In Simple words, we want chaos to be creative.

We like to think of creativity as a space for untrammeled imagination, free from all constraints. And from the chaos, you’ll deliver innovative projects and ground-breaking solutions, even if the deadlines are pushed back. Right???


Research suggests that creativity is actually positively related to daily planning behavior, long-term organization, and time management. Those who prefer a disorganized work approach are generally less creative. Examine the life of any great artist and you will find evidence of hard work, discipline, and hard-won knowledge of their craft.

And the difference between those who call themselves “creative” and those who actually create something of value, however, comes down to their ability to focus.

Anything that increases the amount of time you can spend immersed in a project is likely to increase your creativity. Having a more organized approach and setting aside specific time for your planning and admin can give you more freedom to explore and expand your creative ideas without these extraneous distractions.

And Focus requires an organized way of working, living and thinking. All said you cannot focus if you are not organized. Period.

And Getting organized doesn’t necessarily mean that you should keep to a strict schedule that would satisfy a corporate boss. All you need is to look closely at the way you approach your work.

Once you learn to distance your creative process from your chaotic approach and realize that disorganization is not a precondition for creativity, you can adopt a more structured approach and become far more effective in doing so. You need to do small changes in your daily routine to give you more time to do what you do best.

And here are some ways to get organized and boost your creativity.

Prioritize Work which is “Important” but not “Urgent”

In his classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey classifies work tasks according to whether they are important and/or urgent. He points out that many of us spend too much time on tasks that are urgent and important — in other words, staving off emergencies by rushing around to solve problems or responding to others’ demands at short notice.

Covey’s solution is to prioritize work that is important but not urgent. Though this is hard to do on any given day, it is the only way to ensure you are making progress towards your own goals.

For example, your goal is to be a writer and you are unable to take time from your busy schedule to write. Identify a time-boxed interval of time during your day where you shut off all distractions (phone, emails, chit-chats etc.) and only write. It can be only half an hour but only write during that time and do nothing else. You will make real progress.

And whatever interruptions come along later, you will at least have the satisfaction of having made some progress toward your own goals.

Always remember not every urgent task is an important task. Identify and demarcate that distinction and take control of your life.

Practice Constructive Procrastination

In 1927, a class of university students and their professor visited a restaurant in Berlin, Germany. The waiter took their orders, including special requests, but refrained from writing them down. This isn’t going to end well, they thought.

But after a short wait, all the diners received exactly what they’d ordered without error. After dinner, outside on the street, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik realized she’d left her scarf behind in the restaurant. She returned, located the waiter with the photographic memory, and asked him if he’d seen it.

But her question was met with a blank stare: He had no idea who she was or where she sat.

How can you have forgotten?” she asked him, incredulously. “Especially with your super memory!”

The waiter paused, before replying matter-of-factly: “I keep every order in my head — until it is served. Once complete it fades away”

Zeigarnik then did what any good psychologist would: she went back to the lab and designed a study. A group of adults and children was given anywhere between 18 and 22 tasks to perform (both physical ones, like making clay figures, and mental ones, like solving puzzles) — only, half of those tasks were interrupted so that they couldn’t be completed. In the end, the subjects remembered the interrupted tasks far better than the completed ones — over two times better, in fact.

What Zeigarnik found was that as long as a task remained unfulfilled, the mind would continue to remember it and work at it. Perhaps at an even higher breadth and depth.

This is the power of constructive procrastination which can help us to be more creative.

For example, it’s common to feel resistance when undertaking a new exercise habit. This is understandable because there are several steps required. You have to pack your gym bag, travel to the gym, change into your workout clothes, warm up, exercise, warm down, shower, and change back into your normal clothes before traveling back home.

The trick then is not to think about the routine but to commit to the pre-requisite action in the sequence, such as picking up your gym bag.

In other words, you need to commit to first behavior in the sequence and commit to it.

Once you have committed to the 1st step, it will niggle away in the back of your mind like the sword of Damocles and your rationale becomes: “I’ve picked up my gym bag, I may as well travel to the gym and exercise now”.

Here are some useful tips to harness the positive power of procrastination in your daily life: -

· Don’t end the day with a completed task. If you do, you’ll have to re-motivate yourself the next day from scratch. Leave a task unfinished, though, and you’ll be keen to pick it up where you left off and see it through to a conclusion. This also allows you to start each working day with a sense of having achieved something.

· If you are working on a lengthy project or task, stop at a point when you’d really like to go on and take a break doing something completely different. All through your break, your subconscious brain will be quietly sorting out how to complete the unfinished task. Things will then fall into place allowing you to complete the task more efficiently than if you’d carried on without stopping.

· In any communication exercise with others, such as giving a presentation or writing sales copy, get people hooked to your message by giving them teasers. For example, in a presentation, tell them, “I’m going to show you 3 ways to motivate yourself without any effort, but first…”. In written copy, you could do the same by saying, “In a minute, I’m going to show you how to double your personal income without any effort on your part…”. People will be hooked and won’t rest until they know how things end.

Practice the Art of “Doing Nothing” at Times.

The art of nothingness is like taking a leaf out of the Italian way of life; La dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing). The very idea here is that doing nothing is an activity in itself.

In 1881, famous inventor Nikola Tesla had fallen seriously ill on a trip to Budapest. There, a college friend, Anthony Szigeti, took him on walks to help him recover. As they were watching the sunset on one of these walks, Tesla suddenly had an insight about rotating magnetic fields — which would, in turn, lead to the development of modern day’s alternating current electrical mechanism.

Similarly, Friedrich August Kekulé, one of the most renowned organic chemists in 19th-century Europe, discovered the ring-shaped structure of the organic chemical compound benzene while daydreaming about the famous circular symbol of a snake eating its own tail.

And Albert Einstein famously turned to music — Mozart in particular — when he was grappling with complex problems and needed inspiration.

So what is the common point in all these inventions?

The inventions were not made by forced application of mind. All these inventions are a result of randomness; making the mind wander. In other words, we become more creative when our mind is idle, daydreaming or unfocused.

New studies have also proved that indulging in even hours of nothingness is a smarter way to live and utilize the brain to its full potential. This is the reason that companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook have made “disconnected time” or “nothingness” a key aspect of their workplaces.

“Nothingness” gives your brain the time to think, the time for self-reflection, in which you can take back control of your life and do all those things that matter the most to you. It helps you to establish the work-life balance which has been eluding you for so long, in spite of your best efforts.

Don’t Multitask.

In his book Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina cites research into the effects of using a cellphone while driving a car.

Cellphone users were found to be slower to hit the brakes in an emergency, less careful in their “following distance” behind the car in front, and to miss more than 50 percent of the visual cues normally registered by attentive drivers. Taken together, these effects mean that talking on the phone while at the wheel is like “driving drunk.”

While, this may sound like an extreme example, but this does drive the point home; multitasking is never a good idea if you want to boost your creativity.

This “complete” unconditional immersion in what we are doing was the heart of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’ s research in his famous book “Flow

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state, they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities.

During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.

To maintain that focus, it is necessary to concentrate completely on the present moment, as in self-hypnosis or meditation. Any concern for failing and looking bad — or succeeding and looking good — will break the concentration.

Great tennis players often become totally lost in the heat of the game, intent only on making the ball go precisely where they want it to go. ‘’Their focus is on making a good shot, not on the fear of losing the match,’’ says Csikszentmihalyi.

By contrast, a climber who thinks too much about getting to the top may lose concentration and make mistakes. Instead of thinking about the summit, no matter how high and beautiful it may be, he must think about the steps he has to climb to get him there.

Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.

And there’s no such thing as multitasking — just task switching, or at best background tasking, in which one activity consumes our attention while we’re mindlessly performing another.

And Lastly, Exercise Regularly

Do you know that regular exercise can not only make you physically fitter but also mentally more alert? even more creative?

This is the argument of Harvard Professor of Psychiatry John Ratey in Spark! How exercise will improve the performance of your brain, and he has a mountain of scientific research to back it up.

He points out that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lead incredibly active lives compared to us — searching for food each day, running towards prey and away from predators, and migrating across continents in search of abundant food and better living conditions. The giant brains that set us apart from other species evolved within a highly active body.

Drawing on research studies from education, sports, and medicine, Ratey demonstrates that exercising more will stimulate the growth of brain cells, enhance memory and concentration, and improve the “cognitive flexibility” vital for creativity. Not only that, exercise can reduce anxiety and stress, lift depression, and lessen addictions — removing some killer obstacles to creative work.

Always remember our brain is a finite resource and beyond a certain point doing more or working harder becomes counterproductive. So the best option is to take a break and recharge to allow space for new ideas to emerge. Any physical activity; a walk, jogging or cycling is a great way to reboot your mind.

As Wilhelm von Humboldt has rightly said.

True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.”

About the author-:
Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast, and history maniac. Connect with Ravi on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter.

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