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Can’t Think of Creative Ideas Easily? Try These 5 Tricks to Become an Idea Machine

Can’t Think of Creative Ideas Easily? Try These 5 Tricks to Become an Idea Machine

You might not even consider yourself a creative person, but chances are, you have been in a situation that requires a little creative thinking. Maybe it was getting out of an argument, or presenting a fresh idea to your hard-to-please boss. Regardless of the situation, you had to dig deep into the right side of your brain and find a unique approach and artistic outcome. But sometimes, even if you do consider yourself a creative person, the ideas seem to be stuck in your head.

When writers experience it, it’s called writer’s block, and it’s an incredibly frustrating conundrum to find oneself in. Non-writers call it just-plain-stressful, and it’s true. One startling study showed that 75% of people felt they were not living up to their creative potential. So how do those 25% manage to feel fulfilled, creatively? Perhaps they have a few tricks.[1]

Common Obstacles That Stop You from Unleashing Your Creative Potential

If you have trouble tapping in to your inner artist, you aren’t alone and you aren’t untalented. Life is filled with things that can get in the way of your own creativity.

  • You’re afraid to fail. It’s a simple truth: none of us want to be failures. If we put ourselves out there, especially creatively, and we aren’t successful…well, it really makes it challenging to ever want to take that kind of risk again.[2]
  • You overthink. When you’re struck with inspiration, at first you feel excited and passionate about your vision. But then, that little voice in your head tells you that people won’t understand, and you should probably go in a different direction. Even though that voice is rarely right, it can be nearly impossible to ignore it.[3]
  • You’re going to be criticized. Look, creativity is personal. It’s because of this that any kind of feedback feels like an attack. When it comes to creativity, you have to be willing to find criticism helpful, not hurtful.[4]
  • You like following guidelines. If you’re given a menial task at work, it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought. You can easily follow a patterned guideline and feel confident that you know what the end result will look like. But when it comes to approaching or creating something in an imaginative, new way, you have no guidelines or helpful hints; it’s all you.

Creative Thinking Can Fast-Track Your Career Success

Yes, creative thinking can be challenging and even scary, but it’s important. In fact, Mark Cuban, billionaire software developer and judge on the hit show ‘Shark Tank,’ is confident that creative thinking will be the most important job skill you can have.

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Computers, and technology in general, continue to take over everything from processes multiple people had to do, to taking orders in a fast food restaurant. It’s scary to think about, but many jobs are no longer safe now that computers can write code better than the average student.

I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering. When the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data…critical thinking and liberal arts degrees will make a huge comeback. You can’t automate good writing—Facebook has already proven that replacing journalists with an algorithm can have problematic results. – Mark Cuban

While it may sound like a plot straight out of a sci-fi movie, the human race is officially in competition with artificial intelligence. Now, more than ever, we need to think ahead to determine how we add value. Think: What can I do that a computer cannot?

Thankfully, that answer tends to be thinking creatively. Computers and artful intelligence are programmed to be logical and accurate. Art and creativity is the exact opposite.

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Let’s Get Creative: 5 Ways to Get Your Mojo Back

Have Breaks and You May Find Your Muse.

I know, I know. I just told you that artificial intelligence is after your job and now I’m telling you to relax. But it’s not as counter-intuitive as it sounds. When you spend hours upon hours trying to churn out creativity and the next brilliant idea, you can create your own burn out. When you feel stuck and like nothing is coming to that artsy brain of yours, get up and go for a walk.[5]

If you allow yourself a change of scenery, your perception changes (not just literally, but figuratively as well). If you see something new, you may find yourself getting inspired. For me, simply walking past a building I’ve never seen before can get my thoughts moving. What’s the history? Who walked through those doors? If it’s abandoned, I want to know why. Suddenly I have come up with fictional answers to my non-fiction questions. By the time I walk back to my desk, I’m ready to write a short story or a poem. And all it took was a little fresh air and new scenery.

Surround Yourself With Creative People But Avoid Vicious Competition.

This tip comes with a disclaimer: do not allow this to become a competitive group. Accept each others’ creativity and embrace it! Do not try to be better or more creative than the other!

Regardless of your medium, having a group of like-minded people can do wonders for your right-brain. If you write, have a regular meeting in which you peer-review each others’ work and get inspired by other people’s views and ideas. If you’re a musician, go to as many open mic nights as you can. Network with singers, songwriters, etc. Even if they have a completely different sound than you, you may find bits and pieces of their style than encourage you to try something new with your own.

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Even if you’re only trying to be creative in your day-to-day life, finding groups of artists, or even taking some amateur art classes, can dramatically change your daily point of view. These interactions, no matter how uncomfortable they may seem at first, will help you to approach everything just a little differently. That’s the first step to tapping into your creativity.

Doodle. Sketch. Draw. Even If, and Especially If, You Are Not an Artist.

Any time I’m in a long meeting that I can’t focus on, I will let myself doodle little trees or flowers in the margins of the paper I’m supposed to be taking notes on. Granted, I am not encouraging you to get yelled at by your boss, but it turns out drawing, even if it’s just squiggly lines and shapes, can help you focus on something you would otherwise tune out. When it comes to tapping into your creative forces, letting the pen free style on your paper can lead to some really unique ideas. The key is to not have any kind of vision or end-goal for the image. In fact, bonus points if you barely recognize what you drew![6]

Play With Toys at Work to Stop Yourself from Feeling Bored.

I have so many odd toys and figurines on my desk that I am often the go-to for a coworker’s child after school. The kids usually think I keep the toys for them, but actually they’re for me! Having legos or any kind of building block-type toys on your desk is great for your imagination. When you spend 8 hours a day typing emails or working on spreadsheets, your whole body sort of zones out. This makes creative thinking a real challenge. But if you can break up your day by putting something together with your hands, it allows your brain the break it needs to think creatively and be present. Turn off that auto-pilot!

Disrupt All Your Patterns and Habits.

This may be the most challenging tip, but it’s also one of the most effective. When you live in the same place for a while, and you work in the same place for a while, you develop habits. You know when you wake up, you know when to start the coffee, you know when traffic is the best and the worst. You know the order you do things when you get to work or school, and you know the usual places you like to go for lunch or an afternoon cup of tea of coffee.

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Stop doing all of this.[7]

I’m not recommending you dare traffic and start leaving the house at crazy times, but I am suggesting you vary your habits. If you always put your coffee in your cup and then your cream, try it reversed. If you check your emails on your phone before getting to work, check them on your computer once you arrive at your desk. These are small shifts that can rock the rest of your day in other subtle ways, jarring the creativity within you and forcing it to surface. And who knows, you may find your new favorite restaurant in the process!

Go forth, and be creative.

To sum it all up, remember you aren’t alone. Almost everyone is struggling with their creative goals, and those same people are terrified to be judged or disappointing in their ideas and creative approaches. But creative thinking will define you, and soon! Just because you may find it challenging at times, don’t give up on letting the right brain take over! The creativity you allow yourself to find could just change the world as we know it!

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Heather Poole

Heather shares about everyday lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

3. Create a System

Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

5. Use a Ratings Scale

Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

7. Offer Feedback Forms

Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

8. Track Cost Effectiveness

This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

9. Use Self-Evaluations

Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

10. Monitor Time Management

This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

    14. Use an External Evaluator

    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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