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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!

Reference

More by this author

Heather Poole

Technical writer

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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