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Lifehack Presents: The Thinking Outside the Box Mini Guide

Lifehack Presents: The Thinking Outside the Box Mini Guide

    Being creative day-in and day-out is a must for most, if not all, knowledge workers and entrepreneurs. We have to come up with new ideas related to struggling projects, new products, business creation, and ideas to solve numerous amounts of problems. It can be a hard thing to do if you don’t have a framework or process for being creative.

    Instead of just skirting by when it comes to creative pressure, you have to stand out and create ideas to make things happen in your career and life. That’s why it’s important to start thinking outside the box today. This mini guide will show you how to create ideas with minimal effort and frustration.

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    What this is and what it can help you with

    First off, what is “thinking outside the box”? According to the Wikipedia article on the term, there is a 9-dot puzzle that is meant to be an intellectual challenge. The idea is to connect all of the dots of the puzzle by drawing four straight lines without ever lifting your pencil. The term “thinking outside the box” was coined because to solve the puzzle you have to move your pencil outside of the artificial boundaries of the box.

    It’s interesting how this term came to mean “think creatively,” and now it is sort of a cliche when you hear it, but it doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t important. Thinking outside the box is important for so many things. Here is a quick list of different issues creative thinking will help you with:

    • Large problem solving at work or home
    • Creating ideas for new business opportunities
    • Creating potential ideas for writing
    • Project planning
    • Goal setting
    • Ideas for new products and services (as well as ideas to improve current products)
    • Event planning
    • Household repair

    … and the list goes on

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    There really isn’t much in our lives that doesn’t deserve some out-of-the-box-thinking, that’s why it is important we have a creative process in our lives.

    The process

    When it actually comes to generating ideas and thinking creatively, there are many different ways to do it. But, there is a small, simplified process that you can follow to start thinking outside the box as quickly as possible. First let’s look at the overall setting you need to put yourself in to think differently:

    • Turn off your filter. We all have an internal “filter” that tells us ideas are good or bad even before we let them see the light of day. You have to make sure that when you are trying to think differently and come up with ideas, that this filter needs turned off so you can create as many ideas as possible without criticizing them internally. Some of the best ideas may be lost because of this internal filter we all have.
    • Create now, criticize later. When you are in “idea generation mode” you want to come up with as many ideas as possible. These ideas shouldn’t be classified as “good” or “bad” because that it is a totally separate process of thinking outside the box. Make a list
    • Go off in tangents. While creating ideas it’s important to let the creative process go where it “needs” to go. That is, don’t try to limit your ideas to the problem that you are trying to solve. If you start creating new ideas for a product or service while you are trying to create ideas to solve a family problem, let it flow the way that it flows. Some of my best ideas have come out of the weirdest and most “unnatural” times and situations. Embrace these times.
    • Create time and space for creating. As you can have creative ideas anywhere and everywhere, it’s important to remember to actually carve out time to use your creativity to solve your problems. If you have a group of people that need to be in on the creative process then schedule some time with them. Even if it is just you that needs to create some ideas, time block it in your schedule to create the time and space you will need.

    Now that you have the atmosphere for thinking outside the box down, here is the simplified process of idea generation and critique:

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    1. Start with a focal point and create as many ideas around that focal point. The focal point requires you to have some sort of focus and perspective on a current project, problem, business idea, etc. Having this perspective will help put your mind in the right place. You will be able to create ideas around something you are focusing on.
    2. Create ideas for a set amount of time. This could be between 5 or 25 minutes at a time. The idea is to devote this time to collect all ideas that are related to your focal point.
    3. Take a small break after the creation process. This break will be followed by the next step.
    4. Critique and organize. Now that you have some ideas down it’s time to throw out some of the bad ones, organize ones that go together, and also create new ones based off of the organization and critique. Sometimes, by this point in the process, you will already have the ideas that you need to solve your problem. If so, you can stop and work on your new ideas. If you still need more ideas then…
    5. Repeat steps 1–4.

    The tools

    There are a good amount of creative tools that you can use to bolster your outside of the box type of thinking. Here is a list of things that we at Lifehack like to use:

    • Mindmapping software. This is (in my opinion) the be-all-to-end-all creative thinking tool. You can get a good mindmapping app for any platform (MindNode Pro for Mac, MindManager for Mac/PC, or FreeMind for Mac/PC/Linux). Mindmapping is great to set-up your creative focal point and then generate ideas around it.
    • Outlining tools. These are good for the organizing step or even the idea generation step. Once again, there are great outlining tools for all platforms (OmniOutliner for Mac, Word for Mac/PC, Microsoft OneNote for PC, Outliner for iOS, Vault 3 Outliner for Android).
    • Pen, pencil, crayons, markers, and paper. If you are an avid mindmapper, you should try mindmapping on paper every once in a while. This will help you free yourself from digital constraints and put your mind in a different place to create. There is nothing like a huge piece of paper and a bunch of different writing utensils to help you get your creative ideas down.
    • Whiteboard and erasable markers. The corporate standard for creating ideas. It’s so engrained in corporate and business culture that it’s referred to as “whiteboarding”. Usuaally you are using whiteboards in a group setting, so remember to keep your filter off during these “whiteboarding” sessions.

    Dealing with criticism

    No matter how hard you try to turn your internal “filter” off or force yourself and others to keep the creation and critique and organizing steps separate, you will inevitably be faced with criticism from yourself and others. Here are some ways to counteract the effects of criticism in the creative process, while keeping the positive aspects of it:

    • When creating ideas by yourself, instead of “forcing” yourself to not be critical when a new ideas strikes you, write down the idea and then the criticism on a separate piece of paper (or digital mindmap our outline, you technophile, you). This helps you to get the idea out of your head, the same idea that could have been killed off by your filter, as well as getting the criticism out that could help you later in the creative process.
    • When creating ideas with groups, try to have a “creative thinking leader” that will help account for criticisms that come up. This person is sort of a facilitator and they can lay out the groundwork for the creative process before it even starts. This creative leader can do the same thing with criticisms of ideas that are generated, log them for later. If a certain group member has become Mr. or Mrs. Critique Master, then the creative leader may need to remind them that this isn’t the time to critique ideas, only create them.
    • There may be times that your criticisms are too harsh. One of the best things to do in this case is to keep the idea on the “back-burner” and come back to it later. If you still think that the idea is bad and are still very critical of it, you may need to let it go. Sometimes this revisiting of old ideas can last for months or even years. That’s not a bad thing. Just make sure that when you re critiquing something that you aren’t being negative, that you are being realistic.

    Thinking outside the box is an important skill to have for any knowledge worker, entrepreneur, or creative. Hopefully this guide will help you grasp the creative process when it comes to project planning, goal setting, idea generation, business creation, etc. You should now be able to generate massive amounts of ideas and not let your internal or external criticisms get the best of you.

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    (Photo credit: Anonymous businessman with his arms folded via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on February 15, 2019

    How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

    How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

    Achieving personal goals deserves a huge amount of celebration but setting these goals in the first place is a massive achievement in itself.

    While the big goals serve as a destination, the journey is probably the most important part of the process. It reflects your progress, your growth and your ability take control and steer your life towards positive change.

    Whatever your goal is, whether it’s losing 20lbs or learning a new language, there will always be a set amount of steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Once you’ve set your sights on your goal, the next stage is to take an assertive path towards how you will get there.

    The aim of this article is to guide you through how to take action towards your personal goals in a way that will help you achieve them strategically and successfully.

    1. Get very specific

    When it comes to setting your personal goals, honing in on its specifics is crucial for success.

    It’s common to have a broad idea of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, but this can sabotage your efforts in the long run.

    Get clear on what you want your goal to look like so you can create solid steps towards it.

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    Say you have a vision on retiring early. This goal feels good to you and you can envision filling your days of work-free life with worldly adventures and time with loved ones.

    If retiring early is a serious personal goal for you, you will need to insert a timeframe. So your goal has changed from “I’d like to someday retire early and travel the world” to “I’m going to retire by 50 and travel the world”.

    It may not seem significant, but creating this tweak in your goal by specifying a definite time, will help create and structure the steps needed to achieve it in a more purposeful way.

    2. Identify the preparation you need to achieve your goal

    It’s easy to set a goal and excitedly, yet aimlessly move towards it. But this way of going about achieving goals will only leave you eventually lost and feeling like you’ll never achieve it.

    You have to really think about what you need to do in order to make this goal possible. It’s all very well wanting it to happen, but if you just sit back and hope you’ll get there one day will result in disappointment.

    Self-managing your goals is a crucial step in the process. This involves taking control of your goal, owning it and making sure you are in a great position to make it happen.

    In the early retirement example, this would mean you will need to think about your financial situation.

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    What will your finances ideally need to look like if you were to retire early and travel the world? How much money will you need to put into your retirement fund to retire at 50? How much extra savings will you need to support your travels? You could also start researching the places you’d like to travel to and how long you’d like to travel for.

    Outlining these factors will, not only make your goal seem more tangible, but also create a mind shift to one of forward motion. Seeing the steps more clearly will help you make a more useful plan of action and seeing your goal as a reality.

    3. Breakdown each step into more manageable goals

    The secret to achieving your goals is to create smaller goals within each step and take action. Remember, you’re looking for progress, no matter how small it may seem.

    These small steps build up and get you to the top. By doing this, you also make the whole process much less daunting and overwhelming.

    In the early retirement scenario, there are several smaller goals you could implement here:

    • Decide to make an appointment with a financial advisor asking what financial options would be available to you if you were to go into early retirement and travel. Get advice on how much you would need to top up your funds in order to reach your goal on time.
    • Set up and start to make payments into the retirement fund.
    • Research savings accounts with good rates of interest and commit to depositing a certain amount each month.
    • Make sure you meet with your financial advisor each year to make sure your retirement plan remains the best one for you. Research new savings accounts to move your money into to reap the best returns in interest rates.
    • Start investing in travel books, building up a library that covers where you want to go.
    • Think about starting a language course that will help you get the most out of your travel experience.

    4. Get started on the journey

    Creating a goal planner in which you can start writing down your next steps is where the magic happens. This is where the real momentum towards your dream starts!

    Create a schedule and start by writing in when you will start the first task and on which day. Commit to completing this small task and feel the joy of crossing it off your list. Do this with every little step until your first mini goal has been reached.

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    In the early retirement example, schedule in a meeting with a financial advisor. That’s it. Easy.

    As I mentioned before, it may seem such a small step but it’s the momentum that’s the most important element here. Once you cross this off, you can focus on the meeting itself, then once that’s ticked off, you are in a position of starting a profitable retirement fund…and so the momentum continues. You are now on your journey to achieving your dream goal.

    5. Create an annual review

    Taking a step back and reviewing your progress is essential for keeping yourself on the right track. Sometimes you can be moving full steam ahead towards your goal but miss seeing the opportunities to improve a process or even re-evaluate your feelings towards the goal.

    Nominate a day each year to sit down and take a look at your progress. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. But also think about changing any of the remaining steps in light of new circumstances.

    Has anything changed? Perhaps you got a promotion at work and you feel you can add more to your monthly savings.

    Do you still feel the same about your goal? It’s normal for our desires to change over time and our personal goals need to reflect this.

    Perhaps you’d like to take someone new with you on your travels and you need to take this into account regarding timelines. Are there any new steps you want to add as a result?

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    Remember, reflection is a useful tool in realigning your goal to any changes and it’s important to keep on the right trajectory towards it.

    Strive to become the best goal-setter you can be

    Having personal goals gives you purpose and the feeling of becoming a better version of yourself.

    But it’s the smaller steps within these big goals that the growth and achievement really lies:

    • Whatever your goal is, make sure you get specific on when you want to achieve it. This helps you focus on the necessary steps much more efficiently.
    • Research the actionable steps required to get to the end result and…
    • Break these down into smaller, manageable goals.
    • Create a daily or weekly schedule for these smaller goals and start the positive momentum.
    • Reflect each year on your goal journey and purpose, readjusting steps according to changes in circumstance or desire.

    Keep going and always have the end goal in sight. Remember the ‘why’ behind your goal throughout to keep you motivated and positive.

    More Resources About Setting & Achieving Goals

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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