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11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box is more than just a business cliché. It means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before. Ironically, its a cliché that means to think of clichéd situations in ways that aren’t clichéd.

We’re told to “think outside the box” all the time, but how exactly do we do that? How do we develop the ability to confront problems in ways other than the ways we normally confront problems? How do we cultivate the ability to look at things differently from the way we typically look at things?

Thinking outside the box starts well before we’re “boxed in” – that is, well before we confront a unique situation and start forcing it into a familiar “box” that we already know how to deal with. Or at least think we know how to deal with.

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Here are 11 ways to beef up your out-of-the-box thinking skills. Make an effort to push your thinking up to and beyond its limit every now and again – the talents you develop may come in handy the next time you face a situation that “everybody knows” how to solve.

1. Study another industry.

I’ve learned as much about teaching from learning about marketing as I have from studying pedagogy – maybe more. Go to the library and pick up a trade magazine in an industry other than your own, or grab a few books from the library, and learn about how things are done in other industries. You might find that many of the problems people in other industries face are similar to the problems in your own, but that they’ve developed really quite different ways of dealing with them. Or you might well find new linkages between your own industry and the new one, linkages that might well be the basis of innovative partnerships in the future.

2. Learn about another religion.

Religions are the way that humans organize and understand their relationships not only with the supernatural or divine but with each other. Learning about how such relations are structured can teach you a lot about how people relate to each other and the world around them. Starting to see the reason in another religion can also help you develop mental flexibility – when you really look at all the different ways people comprehend the same mysteries, and the fact that they generally manage to survive regardless of what they believe, you start to see the limitations of whatever dogma or doxy you follow, a revelation that will transfer quite a bit into the non-religious parts of your life.

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3. Take a class.

Learning a new topic will not only teach you a new set of facts and figures, it will teach you a new way of looking at and making sense of aspects of your everyday life or of the society or natural world you live in. This in turn will help expand both how you look at problems and the breadth of possible solutions you can come up with.

4. Read a novel in an unfamiliar genre.

Reading is one of the great mental stimulators in our society, but it’s easy to get into a rut. Try reading something you’d never have touched otherwise – if you read literary fiction, try a mystery or science fiction novel; if you read a lot of hard-boiled detective novels, try a romance; and so on. Pay attention not only to the story but to the particular problems the author has to deal with. For instance, how does the fantasy author bypass your normal skepticism about magic and pull you into their story? Try to connect those problems to problems you face in your own field. For example, how might your marketing team overcome your audiences normal reticence about a new “miracle” product?

5. Write a poem.

While most problem-solving leans heavily on our brain’s logical centers, poetry neatly bridges our more rational left-brain though processes and our more creative right-brain processes. Though it may feel foolish (and getting comfortable with feeling foolish might be another way to think outside the box), try writing a poem about the problem you’re working on. Your poem doesn’t necessarily have to propose a solution – the idea is to shift your thinking away from your brain’s logic centers and into a more creative part of the brain, where it can be mulled over in a non-rational way. Remember, nobody has to ever see your poem…

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6. Draw a picture.

Drawing a picture is even more right-brained, and can help break your logical left-brain’s hold on a problem the same way a poem can. Also, visualizing a problem engages other modes of thinking that we don’t normally use, bringing you another creative boost.

7. Turn it upside down.

Turning something upside-down, whether physically by flipping a piece of paper around or metaphorically by re-imagining it can help you see patterns that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent. The brain has a bunch of pattern-making habits that often obscure other, more subtle patterns at work; changing the orientation of things can hide the more obvious patterns and make other patterns emerge. For example, you might ask what a problem would look like if the least important outcome were the most important, and how you’d then try to solve it.

8. Work backwards.

Just like turning a thing upside down, working backwards breaks the brain’s normal conception of causality. This is the key to backwards planning, for example, where you start with a goal and think back through the steps needed to reach it until you get to where you are right now.

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9. Ask a child for advice.

I don’t buy into the notion that children are inherently ore creative before society “ruins” them, but I do know that children think and speak with a n ignorance of convention that is often helpful. Ask a child how they might tackle a problem, or if you don’t have a child around think about how you might reformulate a problem so that a child could understand it if one was available. Don’t run out and build a boat made out of cookies because a child told you to, though – the idea isn’t to do what the child says, necessarily, but to jog your own thinking into a more unconventional path.

10. Invite randomness.

If you’ve ever seen video of Jackson Pollock painting, you have seen a masterful painter consciously inviting randomness into his work. Pollock exercises a great deal of control over his brushes and paddles, in the service of capturing the stray drips and splashes of paint that make up his work. Embracing mistakes and incorporating them into your projects, developing strategies that allow for random input, working amid chaotic juxtapositions of sound and form – all of these can help to move beyond everyday patterns of thinking into the sublime.

11. Take a shower.

There’s some kind of weird psychic link between showering and creativity. Who knows why? Maybe it’s because your mind is on other things, maybe it’s because you’re naked, maybe it’s the warm water relaxing you – it’s a mystery. But a lot of people swear by it. So maybe when the status quo response to some circumstance just isn’t working, try taking a shower and see if something remarkable doesn’t occur to you!

Do you have strategies for thinking differently? Share your tips with us in the comments.

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Last Updated on July 27, 2020

20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

1. Create a Daily Plan

Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

3. Use a Calendar

Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

4. Use an Organizer

An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

5. Know Your Deadlines

When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

6. Learn to Say “No”

Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

7. Target to Be Early

When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

8. Time Box Your Activities

This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

11. Focus

Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

12. Block out Distractions

What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

13. Track Your Time Spent

When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

15. Prioritize

Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

16. Delegate

If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

For related work, batch them together.

For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

  1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
  2. coaching
  3. workshop development
  4. business development
  5. administrative

I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

19. Cut off When You Need To

The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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