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How to encourage productivity without hurting creativity.

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

If you are in charge, part of your job is to motivate your team to finish their work on time. In a management setting, for instance, you will have targets you need to meet and deadlines to work to. And that means you must encourage your team to work fast and not spend their time chatting around the water fountain. So, what do you do? One popular choice is to incentivize the work and offer rewards for those who complete their projects on time. The only problem is that, according to psychologists, this can hamper creativity. Why? Because when we are working towards something, we put pressure on ourselves. You enter the fight or flight response when you pressure yourself and become stressed. Yes, even if you are working toward a reward, rather than working to avoid punishment, you still trigger a stress response. To think creatively, we need to relax when we relax and give ourselves space to consider. This causes more neurons throughout the brain to fire. In short, when panicking, you become highly focused on a single type of thinking. At the same time, relaxation allows the mind to wander, where imagination and inventiveness come from. So, what is the solution? One choice is to consider the various kinds of work that need to be done and treat them differently. Data entry, for example, does not need creative thinking to be finished. In this case, supplying rewards or bonuses can be an excellent way to get your team to work faster. But time and space are unnecessary for creative problem solving or even coding. Your job as a leader is to segregate these kinds of tasks. This could mean putting one team on the grunt work and another on the creative work and then getting them to switch. Alternatively, it could mean creating windows for working on each kind of project. Perhaps let your team work creatively until lunch and switch gears afterward. Although eating triggers the release of relaxation neurochemicals, such as serotonin and melatonin, so you might be better to swap those two around. A leader’s job is to assign the right person to the right job and motivate them in the right way. As it turns out, knowing a minor in neuroscience can come in handy.

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