They say that Hemmingway used to stop writing for the day, in mid-sentence, so his creativity would stay active on the current topic until next time he would sit down to write.
We all know about the concept of “sleeping on” a certain issue.
These are just two examples of letting our unconscious mind do a specific type of almost automatic work on a problem. My suggestion is that we remember that our brains have this weird capacity to think about something, while talking a break from it.
In psychology, they talk about a mechanism called the Zeigarnik-effect, which describes how our brains tend to forget about a problem, once we categorize it as done or delt with. This was originally observed in waiters, who were masterfully able to remember unfinished orders, while being almost amnesiacs when it came to the finished ones.
This is, in part, the reason why it works to “sleep on a problem”. We tell ourselves that whatever we are working on, is still an “open order”, and therefore has to stay active in our subconsciousness.
John Cleese, the world famous comedian, said in his brilliant talk on creativity, that creative people usually keeps a subject open for editing until the very deadline, in case something better pops into their heads. The longer a subject is “open”, the longer the window for new ideas will be open.
This is also a key lesson from the book Originals by Adam Grant. By way of procrastinating, an original mind is able to come up with better ideas, because the unconscious mind is working on the problem for a longer time.
We can harvest this effect by being the kind of person who is quick to start, but slow to finish – this gives us the maximum amount of time to work. Open up a subject, and let it stay open. Ideas tend to pop up in the most unexpected circumstances, but it usually requires that we have begun thinking about it first.