The Hidden Price of Increased Productivity Every Creative Needs to Know

The hidden price of "productivity" every creative needs to know -

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more reading, more writing, more education, more promotion, more everything.

Add in all the great podcasts, webinars, online classes, and audiobooks available–not to mention the fact that most Kindle devices will read your digital book aloud for you–and it’s easy to be more productive. Simply fill all those open, unused spaces in our lives with educational audio. You can listen during your commute, while exercising, or while doing chores. The only limit is your imagination! Sounds great, right?…

…except that what these tips don’t mention is the hidden price you pay for filling up your mindless moments. You might be getting more done, but in the process, you’re probably also sabotaging your most important, most creative work.

You may be sabotaging your creative process by trying to “get more done.”

A Wandering Mind Is a Creative Mind

Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas come to you when you’re in the shower? That’s because the shower provides you with a safe, relaxing environment where you don’t have to concentrate very hard.

Safety + Relaxation -> Your alpha brain waves (important for creative thinking) increase. Your inner critic takes a nap; your brain starts playing with wild and crazy connections, and coming up with creative solutions.

Pro Tip: When you fill your spare moments with podcasts and audiobooks and other information-packed audio, you take away opportunities for your brain to wander into that relaxed state where free association is more likely to occur.

Boredom Encourages Creative Connections

Perhaps, though, you’re easily bored. It’s not just that you’re trying to learn more and be more productive; you want to avoid thumb-twiddling and time-wasting.

If that’s the case, it’s time to increase your boredom tolerance. Recent research shows that boredom in the workplace may increase creativity by providing the opportunity to daydream.

Pro Tip: If you combat boredom by focusing on email, webinars, reading and other “productive” activities, you switch your brain from its wandering, creative mode back to focused, attentive mode–and creativity suffers.

Stressed Brains Aren’t Creative Brains

According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules,

Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function. It can hurt your motor skills. When you are stressed out over a long period of time it disrupts your immune response. You get sicker more often. It disrupts your ability to sleep. You get depressed.” — Brain Rules website, Brain Rule #8

Remember how alpha brain waves encourage creativity? You see them when you’re relaxed, daydreaming, or practicing meditation. A stressed brain produces beta waves, a “fast” type of brain wave that occurs when you’re focused, solving a problem, or making a decision. 

Pro Tip: If you want to be more creative, don’t increase stress by packing every spare moment with things that require focus and attention.

Increased productivity is a fabulous goal–unless it interferes with getting your most important, most creative, work done. What do you think? Do you fill up your free moments with all those wonderful podcasts, audiobooks, recorded class sessions, or other great information sources? How do you strike a balance and make sure you have enough “down time” to nurture creativity?


Henry, A. Why Great Ideas Always Come in the Shower (and How to Harness Them). Lifehacker website.

Cheryl K. Stress and Brain WavesAmerican Nutrition Association website.

British Psychological Society. Being bored at work may make us more creativeScienceDaily website.

Bergland, C. Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today website.

Herrmann, N. What is the function of the various brainwaves? Scientific American website.

Novotney, A. The science of creativity. American Psychological Association website.