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Published on December 20, 2018

How to Be Innovative and Creative at Work

How to Be Innovative and Creative at Work

There is a common misconception that creativity is a gift – that it’s something you either have or you don’t. However, this is simply not true.

Creativity is something you have to work at. It’s like a muscle you have to train.

So how to be innovative and creative at work?

What Drives Creativity?

Before we look at some specific ideas that will set your creative juices flowing, let’s think briefly in general terms about what it is that drives creativity.

What is it that allows Steve Jobs and Elon Musks to innovate so consistently?

Creativity is about trying to see things from a different angle; it’s about trying to find a new perspective. It’s about trying to step outside of the mental constraints we impose upon ourselves to attempt to look at a problem in a new light.

Being creative is trying to understand what limitations we are unwittingly conforming to, and then breaking free of them. It is allowing yourself to do things, experience things or consider things in unfamiliar ways.

This is the essence of creativity and innovation, and shaking things up to free yourself from accepted ways of thinking is at the heart of being creative.

Above all, you need to fight against routine, mindlessness and apathy, the mortal enemies of the creative process.

13 Ways to Be Innovative and Creative at Work

1. Go Outside

If you are suffering from a creative block, one of the simplest and most powerful ways to remedy it is to leave the office and go for a walk. If your brain becomes stuck in a rut of routine and repetition, just seeing some unfamiliar sights can help you break free of your self-imposed mental prison.

When you do this, make sure you switch off your phone and give your mind space and time to relax. If you spend your walk staring at your screen, you might as well stay in the office – the idea is to let your mind wander. When you arrive back at the office, you will feel creatively invigorated.

You can make this a habit if your work allows it – but don’t turn it into a new routine. Make sure you vary your walks, pay attention to and take note of things you see. You will quickly realize how this can help fire up your creativity.

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2. Don’t Fill “Dead Time” with Pointless Telephone Use

“Dead time” is moments like when you are on a train or having lunch alone. Your mind is inactive, and you are just waiting for the time to pass. Nowadays, many people have developed a reflex during moments like this to reach for their smartphone.

Some people mechanically check emails or messages, some open Twitter or Facebook, and others have a mindless game or two to occupy the time.

However, if you spend every spare minute of the day feeding information into your brain – often useless information – you are crowding out moments when your brain can be rearranging thoughts and brewing up new ideas.

You need to give your mind downtime to be creative and innovative. If you fill dead time by reading the news on your telephone or digging turnips from a virtual garden, you are effectively filling some of your brain’s most creative moments with white noise.

Celebrate dead time and let your brain wander.

3. Start Your Day with Creativity

Another bad habit so many of us now have that kills creativity is to fall into the rut of routine from the moment we open our eyes.

When the alarm sounds in the morning, before we even crawl out of bed, we reach for our telephone. For most of us, our telephone probably is our alarm. Before we know it, we’re checking our notifications and our mind is already fixed into the worn groove of our hyper-connected life.

Instead of this, why not start by giving your brain something different and stimulating when you first wake up? Leave your phone switched off for the first hour of the day and give your brain something else to do instead.

Listen to music, read a book, meditate, do yoga, make some unique drink or anything else you can think of. Give your mind some space to breathe and expand first thing in the morning – and then see how much more creative you become later in the day.

4. Set Aside “Creative Time” out of the Office

The routine of turning up for work and doing the same old thing in the same old place is deadly poison to creativity. You end up training your brain to think about things in the same way, and the day-to-day grind drives fills the space required for original thoughts.

An answer to this is to set aside “creative time” outside of the office. Allow yourself 45 minutes once or twice a week to sit in a coffee shop and just think.

You should find a place that is comfortable and quiet, somewhere you can simply sit and be alone with your drink. You shouldn’t have any particular goals and you certainly shouldn’t take work with you – but at the same time, this is “work time” and you should focus your thoughts on work.

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The idea is to allow your mind to relax and simply wander. You will probably come up with some surprising new insights or ideas.

In keeping with the theme of mixing things up as much as possible, it might help you to change the location for this activity rather than going to the same place each time – but some people might also find the ritual of going to a familiar place helps put them in a calm and creative frame of mind.

5. Surround Yourself with Inspiration

Even if you can’t go for a walk, spend reflective time in a coffee shop or rearrange your office furniture, you can still surround yourself with inspirational material that will help keep your mind on its toes.

Always be on the lookout for new and stimulating material and adorn your workspace with whatever you find. It could be newspaper headlines, rousing quotations, objects, photos or anything else – it’s up to you.

Make sure you keep replacing everything too – it will keep your space fresh, and this, in turn, will keep your mind fresh. Above all, don’t let your environment become dull and boring or your mind will stagnate.

6. Pair Up

Creativity and innovation will be stunted if you work alone, so have someone to bounce ideas off of.

Depending on your work situation, this could take different forms. One idea might be to organize dedicated brainstorming sessions with your business partner or another collaborator.

Another more original idea might be to pair people in the office for a certain amount of time as “creativity buddies”[1]. For a set period, perhaps one month, you can set aside a time each week for the two to share ideas, brainstorm, chat, discuss and generally come up with new ideas.

After the allotted time is up, rotate the pairs to keep things fresh and help generate even more creativity. This way, you can have people with different expertise and outlooks teaming up; new ideas will quickly start flowing.

How you organize this in your particular work situation is up to you – be creative!

7. Move Your Desk

This works in a similar way to going for a walk. If you always sit at the same desk in the same place and do the same tasks, move your desk. When you find your creativity drying up, if it’s possible, try rearranging your office. Something as simple as sitting in a different location can have a big effect.[2]

Of course, this might not be possible for everything, but there are other things you can do. Go and sit at someone else’s desk for a while or swap desks with somebody. Sit on a sofa to reconsider a difficult problem.

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It can be quite amazing how a simple change of position or scenery can help your creativity start flowing again.

8. Have a Diverse Team

If creativity is all about having different perspectives and viewpoints, then it must make sense to hire people from different backgrounds and with different experiences.

If you’re the boss, don’t simply hire people in your own image. If you populate your office with your clones and your company with like-minded people, creativity will suffer.

A much better hiring policy is to try to create a team as diverse as possible. When it comes to discussions and coming up with new ideas, you will reap the rewards.

9. Control and Manage Negativity

Another killer of creativity is negative emotion, so if you want to be at your most creative and innovative, don’t allow negativity to crowd it out.

Think about it – how can you be creative when your mind is filled with thoughts of traffic jams, IT fails and any number of other daily frustrations.

Of course, life always throws up new things that drive you mad – from a car that won’t start to a computer that won’t load. However, if you want to be creative, you need to manage these emotions.

Push the negativity to one side, compartmentalize it and try to put yourself in the kind of positive state that is so much more conducive to creativity.

10. Be Curious

Creativity at work is not limited only to what goes on in the workplace. If you want to be a creative and innovative individual, you need to broaden your horizons. Try to find ways to step outside of the world you are familiar with and learn about as many fields of knowledge as you can.

This is a trait that many of the most creative people have in common – they are all insatiably curious. If you have too narrow an outlook, you won’t be able to break out of your limited world view and make the connections you need to have original thoughts.

Read, learn, listen to podcasts, find out as much as you can about as many things as possible. We now live in a world where this is easier than it has ever been – so there are no excuses.

11. Encourage Crazy Ideas

There is a school of thought that says we are all born creative, but we lose it as we grow up. As children, we are full of crazy ideas but as we grow into adults, reality and our experiences temper our ability to think outside the box.

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In order to allow creativity to thrive, encourage the craziest ideas without any thoughts for whether they are possible. Ask questions like “what would we do if there were no limits?” or “what would we do if we couldn’t fail?”.

The ideas you come up with might not necessarily be useful – but this kind of thinking will allow creativity to flourish.

12. Have Meetings Standing Up

If routine and boredom destroy creativity, it is easy to see why repetitive, tedious meetings end up being so unproductive.

A simple answer to shake things up a little is to have meetings standing up.[3] You might try this once a week to begin with, but you will soon see how energy levels, productivity, participation and – above all – creativity all increase enormously. After trying it a few times, you’re sure to see the benefits.

13. Eat Creative Foods

We said that your creative mind is like a muscle that needs exercising – and if this is true, it also needs feeding.

As any dedicated gym-goer will tell you, exercise alone will not help you develop the biceps and six-pack of your dreams – you need the right nutrition too. And if you want to develop your creative muscle, you need to eat the right brain foods.

Some of the foods to prioritize include unprocessed foods, cold water fish, green vegetables, nuts, fresh fruit and veg and…coffee!

And another tip, don’t live the life of a monk, either. Allow yourself to indulge in a few treats like chocolate or a glass of wine from time to time. This will help you feel happy and positive – also essential for good creativity.

The Bottom Line

The key to releasing your creative power is to keep things always fresh. Fight against routine, boredom and negativity. Always strive to try new things and keep people on their toes.

Perhaps not all of these ideas will work for you – but they may give you new ideas of your own. And that, after all, is how creativity works!

Featured photo credit: Skye Studios via unsplash.com

Reference

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Tanvir Zafar

The founder of ISU Technologies, passionate in writing about entrepreneurship, work and technology.

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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