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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)

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    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 January 21, 2020

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

    Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

    How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

    • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
    • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
    • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
    • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
    • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
    • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

    When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

    Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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    1. Realize You’re Not Alone

    Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

    Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

    2. Find What Inspires You

    Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

    What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

    On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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    If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

    3. Give Yourself a Break

    When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

    Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

    Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

    These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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    4. Shake up Your Routines

    Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

    Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

    When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

    5. Start with a Small Step

    Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

    Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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    Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

    On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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    Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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