The Relationship Between Downtime and Creativity

by Anne-Marie Cziko, Ph.D. Neuroscientist

When do most of you experience your best ideas? Almost without fail people say: in the shower, before falling asleep, driving a well-known route, folding laundry or doing dishes. A busy office is rarely on the list—ironic, right?


All of us understand the value and importance of outward attention. That is what you are engaging in right now as you read these words. There is however, another attentional network that is equally useful. In layman’s terms, it is your internal reflective network. Want to experience it? Just shut your eyes for 20 seconds in a quiet place. 

What happened when you found nothing outwardly available to pay attention to? Did you think about yourself? Did you “daydream?” What about? What happened? This internal reflective network activation is very important for empathy, deep conceptual understanding and of course creative insight.

The constant outward grind of modern life is making us less creative, by providing less deep work, less downtime. This is happening despite creativity and innovation being needed more than ever in our global and dynamic world.

To get the benefits of your internal reflective network you need to schedule some downtime at work and at home. Your brain uses this downtime as fuel to incubate and innovate. Creative work environments incorporate downtime into their workflow. This is how new ideas are born.

Sometimes you need to slow down to move ahead.