Why is it that some people seem to have creativity hardwired into their brains? For many of us, creative inspiration is something elusive, an impulse that it seems can only be captured under the right circumstances. People are always talking about the best way to get the creative juices flowing, whether it’s listening to music, escaping to the great outdoors, or simply working on creative pursuits at the right time of day. But whether morning or nighttime is most conducive to creativity has long been a topic of debate, with early birds and night owls falling on opposite sides.
Let’s consider the habits of a few famously creative innovators. Steve Jobs, the Apple cofounder who revolutionized the tech industry, was famous for rising early every morning, confronting himself in the mirror with the same question – “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” – and then working in peace for a couple of hours before heading to the office.
In contrast, literary figures like Franz Kafka, James Joyce, and J.R.R. Tolkien were known to do their best writing in the wee hours. Frank Lloyd Wright, who invented new architectural styles, bucked both of these conventions: a polyphasic sleeper, Wright slept only for brief periods whenever he felt tired – whether it was 2:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. – believing that nothing, sleep included, should disrupt creative inspiration.
Whether we are early birds or night owls has a lot to do with biology and our natural circadian rhythms. But as these vastly different approaches illustrate, whether we feel most open to creative impulses early in the morning or late at night (or, like Wright, anytime at all), likely has more to do with our personality type.
To learn more about this, we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “You are most creative early in the morning.” As it turns out, few of us find early mornings conducive to creative activity: only 37% of readers agreed with our statement. The Tactics, Mind, and Identity aspects proved to be the most important factor in their responses.
Let’s examine the data in more detail below.
Sentinels (42% agreeing)
Although a minority of Sentinels agreed that they are most creative early in the morning, this Role showed the highest rate of agreement. Interestingly, the personality trait behind this result is the Judging trait – one we don’t normally associate with creativity. Judging types find comfort in structure and routine, planning their days deliberately.
While that might sound restrictive, it can actually motivate them to be proactive in their approach to creativity. By engaging in creative or complex tasks and ideas early in the day, during a time that has been dedicated for such activity, Sentinels may feel they are setting themselves up for success.
Analysts and Diplomats (37% each)
The responses of Analysts and Diplomats were strongly divided along the Tactics aspect, with personality types with the Judging trait agreeing at notably higher rates. Overall, Judging types were 11% more likely than Observant types to agree that early mornings enhance their creativity.
With their shared Intuitive trait, Analysts and Diplomats are driven by curiosity and imagination, and these personalities generally spend more of their time and energy on creative pursuits than the Observant Sentinels and Explorers do. But since they also have a tendency to defy convention, they can have widely ranging ideas about whether morning or night is the best time to be creative.
Although the Sentinel Role showed the highest overall agreement, the individual personality types to agree at the highest rates were Commanders (ENTJ) (49%) and Protagonists (ENFJ) (47%). As strong-willed Analysts, Commanders are often aggressively productive, and they may feel a strong urge to dive into innovative ideas promptly every morning. Steve Jobs was a Commander personality type, and his morning routine, described earlier, was certainly aggressive and intense; of course, Jobs, like most Commanders, didn’t do anything lightly.
Protagonists are bright, charismatic Diplomats eager to make the world a better place. They ooze optimism and energy, so it’s no surprise that many of them wake up early, ready to take on the world. Commanders and Protagonists are both natural leaders, and these personalities may find that modeling early-morning creativity motivates others to take up similar habits, so they can work efficiently together to achieve big goals.
Explorer personality types share the Prospecting trait, which makes them open to change, opportunity, and inspiration at all times of the day. Because they can engage with creative projects quickly and spontaneously, they may like to relax in the morning, let inspiration come to them, and begin their efforts when they’re ready to.
The Explorers who disagreed with our statement may not be averse to early mornings specifically – rather, they are resistant to strict schedules and repetitive routines, things they view as inhibiting creativity. This is especially true of Virtuosos (ISTP) (24%), the personality type who agreed with our statement the least. Virtuosos are highly creative, but they do things on their own terms, and they need freedom to experiment and flexibility to shift around projects and priorities as inspiration strikes.
People Mastery (43% agreeing)
The Mind and Identity traits also played an important role in this survey. Extraverts were 7% more likely than Introverts to agree that they’re most creative early in the morning, while Assertive personality types were also 7% more likely than Turbulent types to agree. Extraverts, like the members of the People Mastery Strategy, tend to seek stimulation outside themselves, so a quiet, sleepy morning might be less appealing to many of them than a busy, active one. They may grab coffee with a friend or go for a run, drawing energy from their surroundings to get a creative start to their day. Thanks to their Assertive Identity, People Masters may also wake feeling well rested, confident, and ready to be inspired by the possibilities that await them.
Confident Individualism and Social Engagement (38% each)
The Confident Individualism Strategy (Assertive Introverts) and Social Engagement Strategy (Turbulent Extraverts) don’t have much in common, and their divided responses averaged out to the same overall rate of agreement.
Confident Individualists may wake feeling confident in their creative abilities, but not particularly motivated to exercise them early in the morning. As Introverted personality types, they prefer not to be overstimulated first thing in the morning and may be better able to tap into their creativity after they’ve had some time to prepare for interactions with the external world. Social Engagers, on the other hand, are more enthusiastic about busy mornings, but their Turbulent Identity may make them a little less bold, and a little more hesitant to jump into creative work right away.
Constant Improvement (32%)
The Introverted, Turbulent members of the Constant Improvement Strategy were the least likely to agree with our statement. While Constant Improvers don’t shy away from creative activity, they might not wake up brimming over with it. Sensitive to stress, these personality types may start the day with concerns about the future and need a gentle buffering period in the morning to function their best.
Driven by perfectionism, Constant Improvers are also more likely to push themselves to stay up late into the night until they’ve completed a project to their satisfaction, making it harder for them to leap out of bed early the next morning ready to tackle the next task. These personalities may not feel ready to bring fresh inspiration to their work until later in the day or evening.
Some of us wake up in the morning feeling invigorated and inspired, as if we’ve been brewing creative energy in our sleep that must be released come dawn. Extraverted, Assertive, and Judging personality types may be best suited to early-morning creativity, but our survey confirms that most of us need more time to settle into our day and get our creative juices flowing.
Even if we are early risers who like to be productive in the morning, we may simply prefer to start our day with activities that don’t require highly focused, creative energy, like enjoying breakfast with our family, working out, or running errands. Those of us who save our creative pursuits until evening may do so as a way of unwinding, relieving stress, or reflecting on the experiences we’ve had during the day.
Creative geniuses as diverse as Steve Jobs and James Joyce have shown us that truly innovative and absorbing creativity can happen any time of day. It doesn’t matter if we are early birds or night owls, as long as we are open to exploring new ideas and ready for inspiration, whenever it may come along.
What about you? When are you most creative, and how might your personality type influence how you approach your day? Let us know in the comments below.