Arrange your time and tasks according to these seven mental states, and you’ll be a creativity machine

David Kadavy
7 min readMay 28, 2018

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Learn more about the seven mental states of creativity in my new book, Mind Management, Not Time Management.

Art is hard. Creative insights are hard to predict, and just when it gets difficult, your mind immediately jumps to a distraction: something easier to do, an excuse, a scapegoat.

To get the most out of your creative energy, carve out space for creative work. To make that space, you need to make space for the other types of work, too. The key to this is understanding how creative insights happen.

The four “stages of control” that build creative insights

In 1891, German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz — whose accomplishments included inventing the ophthalmoscope — was honored with a party for his 70th birthday. He got up to make a speech, and shared how he achieved his creative insights:

Often … [ideas] arrived suddenly, without any effort on my part, like an inspiration.… They never came to a fatigued brain and never at the writing desk. It was always necessary, first of all, that I should have turned my problem over on all sides to such an extent that I had all its angles and complexities “in my head.”… Then…there must come an hour of complete physical freshness and quiet well-being, before the good ideas arrived. Often they were there in the morning when I first awoke.… But they liked especially to make their appearance while I was taking an easy walk over wooded hills in sunny weather.

35 years later, social psychologist Graham Wallas cited Helmholtz’s speech, and proposed four “stages of control”: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification.

  • During Preparation, you’re learning everything you can about the problem, or, as Helmholtz would say…

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David Kadavy

Author, ‘Mind Management, Not Time Management’ https://amzn.to/3p5xpcV Former design & productivity advisor to Timeful (Google acq’d).