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.
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?
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.
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.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.