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How to Boost Your Creative Output

How to Boost Your Creative Output
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    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.

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    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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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