Advertising
Advertising

How to Boost Your Creative Output

How to Boost Your Creative Output
class="bigphoto">
20071124-creativity.png

    Working productively can be broken down into several key skills: time management, organization and controlling your attention and energy. One of the often neglected but most important factors is your creative output. Successful people tend to have an unusually high creative output and I’d like to offer some tips for how you can boost yours.

    What is Creativity?

    Creativity is often compared with originality. When you see someone who can come up with unique ideas, you say they are “creative”. Picasso was creative because of his unique painting style. J.R.R. Tolkien was creative for writing The Lord of the Rings. Linus Torvalds is creative for starting Linux.

    Advertising

    There is another way of viewing creativity. The root word of creativity is create. Creativity can be seen not just on how original your ideas are, but how many of them you can produce. Creative output is a measure of your ability to churn out creations.

    Thomas Edison held over a thousand patents in his name. Leonardo da Vinci was an astronomer, painter, engineer, inventor, poet and writer. Although both had unique ideas, there creative output dwarfed most of their colleagues.

    Why Does Creative Output Matter?

    Advertising

    Isn’t quality supposed to be more important than quantity? The problem is that with creative output, quality and quantity are completely independent. A few people have gotten the wrong idea about creative output. The myth that having a higher output will somehow reduce the quality of the ideas you create.

    Having a high quantity of ideas doesn’t reduce the quality of ideas; quantity enhances quality.

    I write for several sites as well as my own. A couple fellow bloggers disagreed with this strategy. Won’t you be giving away your best ideas so other websites will profit off them? This assumes that each idea I create reduces the total ideas available to write about. This is ridiculous.

    Advertising

    Ideas are not zero-sum. Having one idea doesn’t reduce the amount of ideas you are able to produce. Boosting your creative output requires changing how you channel attention. It has nothing to do with depleting an imaginary idea-bank inside your brain.

    How to Boost Your Output

    The most important way you can boost your output is to get rid of the zero-sum assumption. If you feel that each idea created limits your ability to create new ideas, you’re output will be only a trickle. The best writers, programmers, designers and idea-generators I know believe that the supply of ideas is endless, you only need to know how to turn on the flow.

    Advertising

    Here are some tips to get you started:

    1. Churn Without Judgment. If you stress about the quality of work you are outputting, then the flow will be cut off. Writers block is a symptom of perfectionism. Churn first, judge later.
    2. Idea Breeding. Use past ideas to generate new ideas. I’ve written close to 500 articles in the past two years. If I ever get stuck, all I need to do is search through past articles. Almost always they leave unanswered questions that can be tackled with a new article.
    3. Creative Input. Feed your brain with books. I read about 50-70 books a year. The most creative people I know can read over a 100. By devouring knowledge you add to the variety of ideas you can produce.
    4. Be Patient. It can take awhile for your brain to get into the right flow. I can write 1500 words in an hour when I’m in the right mental state. But that state often requires waiting through twenty minutes where I type no more than a sentence. Take the time to accelerate your creative flow.
    5. Use Large Time Chunks. Since it takes time to warm up your creative muscles, you can’t expect to go fast if you are constantly stopping. Use large chunks of time where you can build up speed and work for a few hours before taking a break.
    6. Publish Garbage. If you are starting out in a new pursuit, you have only one goal: boost creative output. This often means publishing junk until you train yourself to do a better job. Feedback from the world (not self-judgement) is the fastest way to hone your creative flow.
    7. Set a Quota. Give yourself a certain output criteria for each day, week or month. This will build up a high creative output that can later be refined. Instead of just creating when you feel like it, set a high goal. Sometimes you’ll produce garbage. But you’ll also produce a lot more winners than by being a perfectionist.
    8. Hit the Challenge Zone. If you set too few standards for quality, you won’t improve. But if you set too high standards, your creative output will plummet. The challenge zone is the area where you have enough challenge to improve yourself but not so much that you can’t perform.
    9. Aim With Your Challenge Zone. There is a tendency to use external factors to define your standards. For example, you want to become a musician, so you decide to set your standards to one of your favorite bands. This is a mistake. By setting the challenge zone to external criteria you kill your creative output or kill your quality. You only need to compete with yourself, don’t judge yourself by other standards.
    10. Nuke Those Assumptions. If you assume that your creative output is fixed, it will be. Give yourself a high quota and aim within your challenge zone. You’ll probably be surprised at how much more you can produce if you force yourself to. More importantly, you’ll probably be surprised that quality doesn’t usually suffer when you boost creative output.

    More by this author

    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

    Trending in Featured

    1 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 4 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 5 How to Find Time for Yourself

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

    Advertising

    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

    Advertising

    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

    Advertising

    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

    Advertising

    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

    Read Next