I recently started working in a position that demands I think more creatively. Here’s a few methods that I’ve noticed have been working well for me.
Get the Hell Away from Your Desk
Ahh, my workspace. It’s beautiful, ergonomically-designed and efficient. I have everything I need: a dry erase board, moleskine notebooks, and post-its in every color of the rainbow.
And yet creatively, this workspace is the Antichrist. My desk is a fabulous place for getting stuff done once I know what to do. But brainstorming? Hardly.
So get the hell away from your desk. You should go to any room where the intended activity is to NOT work. I get good ideas when I go to the breakroom, stare at the watercooler and daydream. And let’s not forget the best place: the toilet. Sitting quietly in a little stall and letting your mind wander is highly effective. If that’s a little too gross for you, or if you think your co-workers will wonder why you hang out in the bathroom all the time, then you may have to find a secluded bathroom on another floor. Knowing where one is will come in handy regardless 😉
This is obvious advice you’ve probably heard before, but go out for a walk. Here’s the corollary advice you DON’T often hear: don’t bring anything to write with. I do my best brainstorming when I don’t have a pen and paper, nor an iPad, or a laptop. Somehow, the ability to record your ideas will freeze up your synapses and your pen will just hover over the blank page. So go out for a walk and make sure you’re empty-handed.
An alternative is to brainstorm in the car or on the bus or subway. I outlined the main ideas of this blog post on the car ride home last Friday, then I wrote down my notes on a piece of paper as I sat in my car in the driveway. The car isn’t a very eco-friendly way to get creative, but if you’re stuck in the car anyways, you may as well turn off the radio, stop texting, and let your mind go for 15-30 minutes.
Keep Your Hands Tied
Wash the dishes. Brush your teeth. Click your pen. Twiddle your thumbs. Toss a ball against a wall. Twirl a baton. Play a musical instrument. Shoot hoops by yourself. All of these things keep your hands busy, and allow your mind to wander. You want to be in a state in which your body performs an effortless task (a “motor” task”), but your mind is engaged elsewhere. My theory is that when your body and senses are engaged in something physically engaging and rhythmic (even something as simple as chewing gum), then your mind isn’t as easily enticed by temptations like cleaning your desk, checking your phone for messages, or going to time-waster websites. Put another way, your brain is always seeking dopamine from interacting with your environment. Doing those distracting activities gives your brain the little splashes of dopamine that you find rewarding but are unproductive. But performing those other non-distracting motor activities (like tossing a ball in the air) allows your brain to get those little rewarding splashes of dopamine, but doesn’t distract your conscious brain from thinking creatively.
All I ask is that if you insist on clicking your pen repeatedly, do it somewhere people cannot hear you; or else your co-workers will assassinate you.
What about you? Do you have any methods for getting yourself to think creatively? Let me know in the comments.