Why Grumpy People Can Be Super Productive

If you’re waiting for the “right mood” to strike before you attack that stack of work, you might be waiting a loooooonnng time.

Why Grumpy People Can Be Super Productive

When we say that we’re “waiting for the right time” to start on something, we tend to mean that we want to feel good about what we’re doing–but new research suggests that a pinch of negativity can actually be a creative spark.


How so? Creativity, as we know, is both an emotional and intellectual process: Psychologists have found that positive emotions open up your inventory of possible actions–one of the many reasons that it’s good to feel good. But, as new research in the Academy of Management Journal suggests, it’s good to feel bad, too–depending on how you roll through the day.

To find that conclusion, researchers asked 102 creative folks to rate their moods at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. As to be expected, positive feelings at the end of the day correlated with day-long creativity. But here’s the twist: People who felt distressed, hostile, or guilty at the beginning of the day–and then felt good by its end–were more productive than the people who felt positive from morning to night.

The British Psycholical Society’s Occupational Digest blog clues us into why:

The narrow, alert focus on issues (that comes from negative emotions) can be useful by focusing on things that are in need of a solution and spurring motivation to act on these …

Once this focus has been set, allowing the negative emotions to slide away and positive emotions to explore the possibility space is a good recipe for getting to innovative solutions.

As Inc. writer Jessica Stillman suggests, the study has an immediate application to your working life: Instead of waiting for a lily-light “right mood” to descend upon you to get the work done, you can use your grumpiness as a weight to dive into your workflow–powering progress until the end of the day.

In other words, the most creative days are like little metamorphoses: If you start as a curmudgeonly caterpillar–and use that focus to get your work done–you can end as an accomplished butterfly.

Hat tip to Occupational Digest: Starting negative may help you be creative

[Image: Flickr user andronicusmax]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.