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How to Fuel Your Idea Machine

How to Fuel Your Idea Machine
A stack of books

    “Reading fiction is a waste of time.”

    Have you ever heard someone spout this line of complete and utter bollocks? I’ve rarely heard anything so ridiculous said in my life. Fiction, like all the arts, is an important part of culture; both a reflective distillation of it, and the base elements that form it. Society’s collective attitudes, values, beliefs and the public memory have a symbiotic relationship with the arts.

    Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.

    – Henry David Thoreau

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    But a practical lifehackista may not be so interested in the importance of the arts in society; what exactly is the point of reading fiction? You may be thinking, “now that you’ve brought it up, it really is unproductive to read novels! How could I have wasted so much time?”

    Well, if you’ve stopped reading, start again – and if you never did start, now is the time. Here’s why.

    Fuel Your Idea Machine

    Since these are the words used in the title of this article, you may have come to the conclusion that this is the most important reason (for me, at least). That’s true, and I find the “save the best to last” trick that some writers and marketers use a bit gimmicky.

    Before you tell me that you don’t need ideas, think again. Not everyone is an artist, but everyone inherently must be creative. It’s a necessity of a life in which you face problems on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps you need to park your car in a full carpark, or perhaps you’re losing your job, your house and your family. While the scale of these problems are totally different, they share one commonality: they can often be solved with the use of some creativity.

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    Maybe you won’t get the optimal result. Maybe you will. But solving problems is the application of creativity to reality, and in almost every instance there is a workable solution of some sort. You just have to find it.

    Sometimes you’ll find the solution and sometimes you won’t. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you haven’t found solutions in the past means that this principle is rubbish; if you deny the power of ideas, how are you supposed to use them powerfully?

    Reading books, fiction and non-fiction, fuels your idea machine. It gives you fodder to think with. The brain is essentially nothing more than a computer (albeit much more complicated); it takes an input, processes it and produces an output. In other words, you can’t create ideas without inputs. Life experiences and memories are your starter inputs; books allow you to branch out into the experiences of others, in the non-fiction section, and fiction allows you to reach the realm of fantasy – experiences nobody has really had. Fantasy breaks all the normal rules, and so do the best ideas and solutions, so what better place to start?

    If you’re worried that by sucking down other people’s ideas your somehow being unoriginal, remember that this is just fodder for your own ideas – and also, if you have any knowledge of literary criticism, remember that authorial intention and a reader’s interpretation are never the same.

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    Escapism is Good

    I’ve heard it said that all escapism is a bad thing. It’s probably what the woman who recently left her husband because of his World of Warcraft addiction muttered as she slammed the door. Everything is a bad thing in over-the-top quantities, but to say escapism is inherently bad is like saying water is poisonous. It’ll only kill you if you drink too much.

    Books allow you to escape the real world and head into another, and grok knows we need it. The proverb life is a bitch, I always imagined, was probably uttered by a wise man in a turban meditating on a mountaintop when he achieved enlightenment. The originator of this phrase found a way to sum up the ultimate truths of the universe in one line. So why not escape?

    Escaping into fiction is a fantastic way to cope with a stressful life, relax, and lower your blood pressure for a while. It’s better than some forms of relaxation and/or entertainment because it allows you to de-stress without actually turning your brain off. Unlike your physical body, your mind can be stimulated and rejuvenated at the same time!

    Enjoy a Story Without the Mind-Rot

    I love a few good television shows – Battlestar Galactica, Boston Legal, the Sopranos. Unfortunately, the advantage film has over other art forms is the same thing that is a disadvantage to your brain if you over-consume. It’s realistic; your brain doesn’t have to do any work. You just take in what has been created for you.

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    Books, on the other hand, are words on a page; there are no voices, no moving images on a screen depicting reality as if you were right there. Your mind has to create the visuals and sounds all on its own.

    If you swap out just one of your regular television shows for regular fiction reading, then you can exercise your creativity on a more regular basis. Like self-discipline, creativity can be compared to a muscle and in this particular analogy we are talking about the process component of the input-process-output model of our thoughts.

    You Can Consume More Books and Still Keep it Green

    Don’t forget, in keeping with this month’s green theme at Lifehack.org, it’s a simple and painless procedure to switch to eBooks. In fact, it’s a heck of a lot more convenient to carry around hundreds or thousands of books in your pocket on a PDA than to bring one thick novel anywhere. I think a good principle is that anything you do that leads to living a greener life will have many benefits for you, not just the environment, and this is certainly a case in point.

    The other benefit of eBook reading is that you can whip your PDA out whenever you have a spare five minutes, no matter where you are, and get more reading done that you could before. I’ve been doing this for something like six or seven years and it’s allowed me to read more than if I stuck to paper.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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