With all the talk on our site recently about willpower, I wanted to bring in career expert and author Jonathan Fields to write about the connection between order and workplace productivity, creativity, and innovation. You may remember him from when we reviewed his first book Career Renegade, and he has recently published a second book on how to channel fear into career success in Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance. Thank you, Jonathan, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your advice with the Unclutterer community.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a strong connection between the state of my physical space and my ability to do high-level creative work. When my space is in disarray, my thoughts are generally also in disarray. I can still function, I can come up with ideas, write decent-enough content and solve-problems. But, I always know that I’m not operating anywhere near my true potential.
And it’s also not about cleanliness, or complying with someone else’s idea of order. It’s really about having some level of logic to the state of my physical space that works for me, even if nobody else can see it.
Turns out, there may well be a neuroscience basis for this.
Without organizational systems, your brain has to work harder to hold virtual organizational structures in its circuitry, relying on greater levels of working memory. This taxes a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
The PFC is also responsible for willpower and it is one of the parts of the brain that keeps anxiety, impulse and fear in check. Problem is, it’s easily overwhelmed and it’s energy is quickly depleted.
When the PFC fatigues, you’re far more likely to both give in to impulse, distraction and resistance and pull away from the work needed to create great art, experiences, ideas and businesses. A depleted PFC is also less effective at tamping down the anxiety and fear that often rides along with taking action in the face of uncertainty, a touchstone of creativity and innovation.
So, what’s the takeaway?
If you’re looking to cultivate an optimal mindset for creativity and innovation, explore shifting some of the organizational/working-memory workload from your brain to more other-than-human organizational systems. Especially ones that allow you to regularly download and capture information and ideas that would normally be held in working memory.
A simple place to start is a voice-capture app for your smart phone or tablet, coupled with something like Evernote to then easily download the recording (Evernote’s app now includes a voice recording feature), to categorize and store your ideas. Or, a pocket moleskine works well for analog types who want to record their thoughts. These simple shifts can change the neuroscience and psychology of the creative process in very subtle, yet impactful ways.