A Proven Way to Boost Productivity and Ideation: Humor
Yesterday was a big day for me. I’ve been lifting my spirits with intermittent doses of The Office US to escape the gloom and doom of an ever-so-uneventful winter, and yesterday’s grand finale brought this much-loved era to an end. I know I was late to the party but boy, what a party. Today’s priority will be finding a new short comedy to cherish before I spiral into a chocolate-eating frenzy in my search for a substitute pandemic-respite.
I chose a year of global turmoil to completely shift my routine. I went from working in a law firm where billable hours and execution are the holy grail of competence, to working as a freelance writer. Now, my productivity depends on my capacity to ideate and express creativity; two things the ease of which I had completely taken for granted. So, my daily dose of comedy was typically administered during my lunch break, as a self-reminder that there’s good in the world despite the fact I’ve generated zero workable ideas this morning.
But contrary to my initial belief, these comedy breaks weren’t mere pity parties. According to Associate Professor of Psychiatry Karuna Subramaniam, boosting my mood was actually increasing my likelihood of generating good ideas and finding inspiration.
During research she conducted with Northwestern University, she found those volunteers who watched a comedy were significantly better at using insights to solve a series of tasks, than those who had watched a horror film, or a complicated lecture. An experiment conducted at MIT produced a similar result. A group of professional designers and a group of improv-comedians were tasked with a product brainstorming test. The comedians generated 20% more ideas than the professional product designers did, and these ideas were 25% more creative!
It turns out laughter can help people solve problems and generate creative ideas; it makes it easier to think more broadly and associate ideas and relationships more freely, because being in a better mood increases the levels of activity in the region of the brain responsible for concentration and problem-solving.
So, if like me, you’re using a tough-love approach to productivity, it’s self-defeating. It’s not even about “enduring the stick vs chasing the carrot;” it’s about eating the carrot before you even start the race.
Rather than forcing yourself to work through an unproductive slump ahead of a pick-me-up at the end of the day, lifting your spirits from the get-go can get those creative juices flowing and boost your productivity. Lo and behold, I’ve moved my comedy dose to breakfast and I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my ability to generate creative ideas.
I wouldn’t necessarily advise scrolling through memes or TikTok videos; let’s be honest, it’s a bottomless pit; the further you fall the harder it is to climb out. Instead, why not find a short-episode comedy series to watch during breakfast, listen to a funny podcast on your way to work, or call up whichever of your friends is most likely to make you belly-laugh?
Oftentimes I’ll go for a long walk in the morning and listen to a podcast episode. I cover my favorite light-hearted shows in the mornings and leave the denser, thought-provoking shows for the evenings. For example, Dax Shepard’s ‘Armchair Expert’ and ‘Sibling Revelry’ with Kate & Oliver Hudson, never ever fail to make me laugh within the first 5 minutes. They’re part of my morning collection. I leave Sophia Bush’s ‘Work in Progress’ or Lewis Howes’s ‘School of Greatness’ for when I want to check off a couple more hours of productivity that day, or I’m simply in a good mental state to celebrate their guests’ achievements as opposed to feel guilty that I didn’t quite 10x my life.
Just make sure to choose something with a pre-defined end; you want it to be a dose of humor guaranteed to enhance your mood and boost your creativity, not a form of procrastination.
Also, get jiggy with it. I’m aware my personal infatuation with The Office is largely driven by my uncontrollable tendency to get emotionally attached to people; characters included (and my undying love for John Krasinski). So, I do suggest you spice things up and try different things on different mornings until you find whatever works best for you.
It’s easy to start the day by checking your inbox, or watching the news, neither of which, sadly, is likely to elicit that all-important chuckle we’re looking for. So do yourself a favor and leave those things for later. Start the day with the sound of your own laugh!