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How to deal with evenings bursts of creativity?

meanin profile image Paweł Ruciński ・1 min read

I am just a regular guy, software dev. Working on normal hours like 8 - 16. Sometimes I play football or go jogging with friends on late evenings, to have any kind of physical activity during the day. After that I feel my muscles are aching and I feel very tired, but with high oxidation my brain starts working on high revs.

To go to sleep, I try to cheat myself with small dose of video games or having a beer. But there are some nights when, after I lie down in bed, even that does not work for me. I am experiencing this flow of creativity and cannot fall asleep. Many new project, articles, problem solving ideas don't stop comming whilst I am just trying to sleeeeeep. It is important, because next day in the morning I will be like a zombie in the office and my productivity will be like zero.

How do you deal with it? After all, I know I could end up with starting workout before working hours, but I do not want to wake up so early :D

P.S.
It would be good to have a Harry's Potter Pensieve, to be able to rewind everything and start a new day with clear mind :)

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craser profile image
Chris Raser

Sleep is vital for restoring cognitive, emotional, and physical health. It's worth making sacrifices elsewhere (passing up exercise, opportunities to code, etc.) to make sure you get a good night's sleep.

I used to take martial arts classes that went until 9:00 PM, which was quite late for me if I wanted to sleep. I found that having a regular nighttime routine really helped.

I'd get home, stretch for a few minutes, then take a hot shower. I'd eat, then turn down all the lights in my apartment and either read or watch TV. I would set the thermostat to 65F (under 18C). Your body naturally responds to falling temperatures and low light, so use that to your advantage to make yourself sleepy. Going from a hot shower to a cool home will naturally make you a bit sleepy, and make you want to get in bed. Same with the low lights.

During that time, I would not look at my phone, go online, or think about work. As soon as I felt a bit sleepy and relaxed, I'd get in bed.

And, honestly, it sounds like you already know the answer to your question, but you don't like it: get up earlier and exercise before work. But I don't like getting up early either, so I can't urge you to do that.

I exercise on my lunch break. Running is a great mid-day exercise, and kettlebells can be brought to work and hidden under your desk. I call my 22kg KB my "portable gym."

If your office has showers to wash up afterward, great. If not, I've found that rinsing my hair and face with a water, then cleaning up with disposable wash cloths works really well. (Friends I trust said they couldn't tell when I'd worked out and when I hadn't.)

And ultimately, I've learned to trust that whatever I think of at night, I'll think of again the next day at work. It's important to remember that no matter how much you love football, playing it all the time, even when you're tired will ultimately grind you down and hurt your performance. Your brain is the same. I enjoy being a dev, but I know that even if I have an idea I want to go try, it's important to give myself time to rest if I really want to perform well consistently.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This is a great response

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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

Again, thanks for reply.

I will take to heart your points. Maybe even some day I will start workout before work. Furthermore, possibly I will rise an issue with shower in the office again, because it is forgotten for some time. Thanks!

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aurelkurtula profile image
aurel kurtula

I don't have this problem. I don't know what you are going through, so much so that I wish I had a bit of what you have!

Anyway, may I suggest two things that might help:

Over at quora there's this guy that I started to admire, he said that he works out very hard, going to the gym and running. He said that he went to bed at 7pm and woke up at 3am, then went for his run and the gym, came home, showered, played with his cats then went to work.

It sounded foreign so I tried it. It was great. By the time the day started, I was fresh. I go to the gym and run but not as hardcore as other people make it sound. I could do all my "training" and running in under two hours.

You could try this.

Next, there's another technique called "the morning pages". It's created by the author Julia Cameron. The basic idea is to write 3 pages of A4, long hand, every morning just when you wake up. Write about anything, just write.

That's when you could write your ideas. In three pages you could list all your ideas, expand on them and some. There's no topic or reason to write just what comes in your head.

I used this technique to clean out some rotten cobwebs in my head and I can't recommend it enough.

I wrote for three weeks every morning without braking the chain, then I stopped. I feel like a changed person, my goal was totally different to yours though.

What I'm thinking is, this exercise might train your brain to think of the ideas in the morning. After a trial with the morning pages (or basically forcing your brain to work in the morning) then maybe you'll end up generating your ideas in the way to work. If you drive record your idea, if public transport, use your phone.

Then, instead of generating the idea at 9pm and still thinking about it at 1am, you'll generate the ideas by 9am and play with them all day long, by the time you go to bed you'll be free of them.

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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

The morning pages is a great idea! I will start doing this beginning now. Hence I will produce more articles here.

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agazaboklicka profile image
Aga Zaboklicka

I'm jealous. I could do all my work 10 pm-4am xD

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Eric Normand

I have this problem, too. In my youth, I'd have bouts of creativity at night where I could not sleep. Instead of lying in bed frustrated for hours, I learned to get out of bed and work out the ideas in a notebook. As I got older, this had a bigger and bigger impact on the rest of my life.

I want to give a different perspective than the standard recommendations you see nowadays.

I have learned to have an evening routine, focus my attention on something else (like reading), stop working no matter what. My sleep is definitely better. But!!! I think now that the idea that we should have such regular routines, like machines, to make us as productive as possible, is just a product of our time--not a universal truth.

We live in cycles. Sometimes we're on fire with an idea. Sometimes we're lazy or recuperating. Sometimes we've got cortisol, sometimes we don't. To neglect this cycle is damaging. I've had periods of time where I got 4 hours each night, staying up till 3 and waking up at 7 for three weeks, and never felt better. I've had times when I got 9-10 hours each night and felt like it was just what I needed.

Our jobs expect us to be regular. Start at 8. Finish at 9. That might work for factory work (turning a crank, or other mainly physical work), but I don't believe it's healthy for creative work. What's more, I find that living on this routinized schedule is very precarious. For example: one look at a bright cell phone screen an hour before bed will totally ruin my sleep. And everything else in my life is based on having that good sleep.

Look, I could do more to avoid having any lights around the house. I could say "even if I forget to buy that thing on Amazon I promised to buy today, I will wait till tomorrow". Because if I go on Amazon, that will ruin my sleep. But then I'm becoming an unreliable person. It's all tradeoffs. I could do a lot more to make my sleep more secured. But I find my life is poorer for it.

Yes, when I manage to get into a good routine with sleep, and nothing disturbs it, which I can maintain for about 2 weeks, I do feel well-rested. I do! But here are some things I don't feel:

  • engaged with creative work
  • highly productive
  • passionate
  • excited to start again tomorrow

Here's a question: If you stop your passion at 7pm every night, why do you think it will come back? You're training it that there are more important things.

Here's another way to look at it. When I try to get "8 hours of sleep", my life becomes about sleep. It takes a three hour "night routine" to really work that angle. And it all has to go right. The stuff I work on is the stuff that requires less focus and less time, because at 5pm I only have 2 more hours. And getting back to where you are in the morning is, well, time consuming.

With all that said, sleep is important.

Here are some things that really help sleep and help other things as well, so you're killing two birds with each stone.

  • exercise AND stretching (but don't exercise too late)
  • meditating
  • less caffeine and earlier in the day

I'm not saying work yourself ragged. I'm not saying don't enforce limits. I'm saying that life is not so regular as your job enforces.

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Kasey Speakman

I really like this answer and find myself in the same boat. Many times I will have an idea unshakably lodged in my brain (software architecture, philosophy, gaming, etc.). It excites my mind and my body follows suit with increased heart rate and breathing. Taking standard medication (Zzquil, melatonin, etc.) usually does not let me sleep when I'm in this state. So it's either lay there most of the night turning it over in my mind or just get up and explore the idea. Either way is only a few hours sleep.

I just roll with it. Sometimes it's a thinking idea and I just lay there and think about it. Sometimes I can research it or try it so I get up and do that because it's the quickest way to sleep. I'm tired the next day, but when it is a software-related idea, many times my work benefits on balance.

I've also found that if I try to put a lot of pressure on myself to sleep at certain times, I am less likely to be able to sleep for being stressed about it. So anyway, rolling with it is what I do. I sometimes wish I could turn it off and just go to sleep, especially when it is several nights in a row.

Jayne - If wishes were horses we'd all be eatin steak

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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

Thanks for your reply. Some time after posting this, I realized that I really have to wrote evening ideas down or even develop them to the end. I 100% agree with your point that in most cases we will eventually benefit on sacrifice a few hours of sleep.

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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

Such a great answer, that I have share that with all my buddies from work, or family 🙂 I think I'll try to chill with book in late evenings and when it comes to these great ideas, I will definitely write it down somewhere.

And what is the most important, thanks to your reply, I won't be as focused as I used to be on keeping such a strict routine till now.

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Isaac Lyman

This happens to me too, but in my case it's more dependent on boredom and the time of year than on exercise.

  • I use Google Keep to take notes of any good ideas I have before I fall asleep. Once I write them down, they stop bugging me.
  • I dedicate a few evenings a week and an occasional weekend to following through on the ideas I'm most excited about.
  • I remind myself that ideas aren't a scarce resource, but passion is. So I don't feel bad tossing away the ideas that I've stopped caring about by the next morning.
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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

First of all, thanks for reply.

I use mixed techniques to store my ideas, sometimes it's onenote, sometimes I send an email to myself or write it on slack to discuss with coworkers later. Of course, there are always two sides of a story. After that, I am not done with thinking. I still find more ways to improve these old ideas, while more new ideas appears.

The real problem is when I have already a couple of them written down and still cannot fall asleep. Suddenly I realize it is already 1 a.m. or even later.

I don't find it as something wrong, but I am aware of that tomorrow is another day.

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devmonte profile image
Grzegorz Jońca

Have you ever tried a meditation?

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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

I have it on my TODO list :)

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Arden de Raaij

First of all I switched my physical training to early in the morning because if I work out in the evening it takes hours for me to calm down. Second: books! I love reading at night and depending the book I fall asleep after 5 sentences or 5 chapters. They keep my creative mind busy while not preventing me to fall asleep when I tire.

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meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

YES!! Books, I recently stop reading in favor of learning new things in the evenings. I have to come back to books! Thanks!

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Pert Soomann

From personal experience, the best thing to do was to figure out why I felt like I want to create all these side-projects.

Taking hard and honest approach helped me kill off some decent ideas that would be very hard to achieve on my own, so there was no real point getting attached to them.

For me, the main two reasons are wanting to work on something fun and cool, that I can show off to my mates, and working with new tech to actually learn new skills, which sometimes is hard to do at work, when you can't really trial-and-error your way in long term, but need that experience from somewhere. Also, I've pretty much killed off any "this would make so much money" type ideas - if it's not something I have interest in, it's not worth doing or even considering.

So, what worked for me, try to figure out why you feel like it, there should be underlining reason, once you know that, should be easier to "scratch the itch" with targeted approach.

PS. I also found it's easier to go to sleep super-early and wake up at 5am to put in few hours to side-project with fresh head before work, than try to work on things after work ;)

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Eric Normand

This rings very true to me. When I feel like I'm making progress on something that's important to me, my mind will stop looking for cool new ideas to work on. When I was younger, I loved the ideas and developing them. But I never did anything with them. Now I make lots of progress, I'm happier with that, and my mind quiets down.

If I've got a million ideas before bed, it's probably an indication that something is blocked in my life or something is not being taken care of. If I just take care of it (even if it takes 3 hours and cuts into my sleep), I sleep better. Don't try to shut up your mind. Listen to yourself and trust that there's a good reason. You just need to introspect to see what's going on. Ask yourself guiding questions.

Very often my ideas and thinking will get ahead of my execution. I have a TODO list 1000 items long and I'm not checking them off fast enough to reduce the list. That means something is wrong and I need to figure out a new plan.

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ImTheDeveloper

I have this same issue. My day consists of:

  • Waking up between 3:20am and 5am
  • Code until 5:50am
  • Gym 6am - 7am
  • Get ready for work to arrive at 8am
  • Leave work and home for 5:30pm
  • Meal prep, talk to wife and 2 year old.
  • Sleep at 9pm

Repeat.

I code in that narrow window because thats the time I have free. I'm tired some days, but I wouldnt give up that time of peace and quiet to work on projects.

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Aga Zaboklicka

I do part of my work in the evenings.

Sometimes finding a morning hour that will not make you into a zombie helps. I discovered a few years ago that I'm as sleepy when I got up at 6 and at 10 (both too early) so if I got up at 6 I'm all ready to go when I'm at 8 in the office.

Adding some bed rituals that switch off further thinking - like reading a fiction (not a tech book & not self-improvement book) or drawing will help you fall asleep without overthinking. And using apps like sleep cycle helps wake up you at the right time :)

Ah, and exercising wakes you up so if you do it shortly before going to bed you may feel full of energy as well. But if you do it in the morning you'll be more refreshed. It doesn't have to be much. Just walk to the next bus/tram/train stop :)

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Ema Suriano

What I always do is instead of taking notes I record a voice memo (no more than 2 minutes length) just to take out the idea of my mind. Then the next day, I will move it to my trello board of personal project. In my case it works pretty well.

Tell me if you’ve tried it and how it went!