“I am inspired to do less and call it a contribution.” Robert Fulton III
Your busy daily routine is healthy and productive. It might also be killing your creativity.
Both science and history tell us that getting your daily routine right is essential for success. No wonder the internet is full of admiring articles about the morning routines of famous people and lists of suggested habits to add to your daily schedule. Spend enough time with this kind of advice and it’s likely your day will end up crammed with worthy and beneficial activities, from gratitude practices to journaling exercises to nature walks.
Research shows all of these activities are good for you, but there is a catch to shoving ever more of them into your schedule — science is just as clear that you also need plenty of ‘non-time’ in your routine. If you crowd your days with every healthy habit out there, you’re unlikely to get enough of it.
You don’t have enough ‘non-time’ in your schedule.
First off, what is ‘non-time’? As The Art of the Impossible author and TED speaker Steven Kotler explained recently on the TED Ideas blog, non-time is basically a fancy word for quiet alone time when you are insulated from the world’s noise and demands.
“‘Non-time’ is my term for that vast stretch of emptiness between 4AM (when I start my morning writing session) and 7:30AM (when the rest of the world wakes up). This non-time is a pitch blackness that belongs to no one but me,” he writes. “The day’s pressing concerns have yet to press, so there’s time for that ultimate luxury: Patience. If a sentence takes two hours to get right, who cares?”
Kotler’s mornings sound both luxurious and eye-wateringly early. But non-time isn’t just one man’s quirky way to get his writing done. Kotler notes that neuroscience shows blocks of disconnected quiet time have profound effects on our thinking and creativity.
“Pressure forces the brain to focus on the details, activating the left hemisphere and blocking out that bigger picture. Worse, when pressed, we’re often stressed. We’re unhappy about the hurry, which sours our mood and further tightens our focus. Being time-strapped, then, can be kryptonite for creativity,” he explains.
Non-time, in other words, helps us relax enough to see the big picture and allow innovative ideas to bubble to the surface. The hustle and bustle of daily life — or even your well-intentioned morning yoga class — can scare shy, gawky newborn ideas away.
Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein agree.
Kotler might be an expert on the neuroscience of creativity, but plenty of incredibly successful people have understood the same truth intuitively. Albert Einstein was a lifelong sailor who insisted that many of his best ideas came to him while he was floating around doing nothing and enjoying his own non-time.
Steve Jobs too was a famous loafer. “The time Steve Jobs was putting things off and noodling on possibilities was time well spent in letting more divergent ideas come to the table,” Wharton professor Adam Grant told Business Insider about Jobs’ long stretches of aimless non-time.
Of course, both of these geniuses then put in incredible hard work to bring their ideas to fruition. Non-time isn’t all you need to change the world. Not by a long shot. It is, however, an essential ingredient.
And when you’re designing the perfect morning routine it’s easy to overlook. There are so many useful things you could be doing with every minute of your day that it can be hard to justify setting aside time to do nothing and get a little bored. But if you want to be the most creative, successful version of yourself possible, it’s essential you do just that.