A frequent cause of deficient creative performance and innovation is mental fatigue instigated by extreme pressure, hours, or exertion. Many people wish to be seen as hard working, so they do everything with high intensity and put in long hours. Alas, such elevated levels of performance can make the brain rather blurry, which is very unfavorable to creative performance and innovation.
Tactical thinking, strategic thinking, and creative work are not brute force methods, but instead require astute and resourceful use of mental faculties to be more effective. The reasoning is that it is more important to be effective than to be busy and it is more important to be work towards results than to be filled with activity for activity’s sake, because in the realm of creative and complex problems, the most essential key to success is to not start off down the wrong path.
Few of us can work at full ability of our mental faculties, thinking clearly and profoundly, for the duration of every work day any more than we can run at top speed for the same distance that we can jog.
This is the falsehood of the current nature of work—that anything can be expected of employees and they must deliver. In the knowledge economy that we live in, most people fake it or do not acknowledge when they are working at less than 100%, and that they are constantly exerted and exhausted. The result is that mistaken, shallow decisions are made, product designs are conceded, and serious systematic errors are introduced by people who are fatigued.
In contrast, it is much more likely that one can work at 100% mental intelligibility for about four hours every day. If one keeps this in mind, then a distinction can be made between critical issues that need full clarity and intense effort, which become part of the four hours of work per day, and those parts of a task or assignment that are monotonous or repetitive and become part of the rest of the day.
That is to say if you expect yourself to be brilliant for only four hours per day, then you may actually live up to this standard. During the rest of the day, there are plenty of routine tasks to accomplish such as returning calls, ordering supplies, doing paperwork, proof-reading reports, etc. Consider the work habits of some luminaries in the fields of science and literature:
- Naturalist Charles Darwin routinely spent about four hours writing. He found four hours exhausting because this was the most creative part of his work day. He spent the rest of his day writing correspondence, doing experiments, reading articles, and listening to his wife play the piano.
- Essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson spent half a day writing, and then spent the rest of the day in his garden or doing other chores.
The significance of the four-hour work day is that particular components of creative and innovation projects are more crucial than others and thus require more intelligent thinking to do properly. For these critical steps, if one is not thinking 100% distinctly, then one is likely to initiate errors that then require significant effort to put right. In all of these cases, if the difficult parts are not done well, subsequent work on the details is a waste of time. Therefore the recognition of which components of a project require extra care and attention is a critical component of ultimate effectiveness.
Recommended Reading: ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Timothy Ferriss