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5 Ways to Enhance Your Creativity

This week I’ve been exploring the topic of Creativity and how to be a more creative blogger (see the previous posts on the creative process and attitudes of creative people). The first part explored methods of creativity, yesterday I shared some attitudes of creative people and today I’d like to get a little more practical and will share a few ways that I one might bring a little extra creativity into their lives.

1. Stimulate Yourself

Most of us know the theory of ‘what goes in determines what comes out’ pretty well when it comes to our physical bodies – however the same principle applies when it comes to our minds.

I find that the more I stimulate myself with a variety of new sounds, sights, ideas, conversations, tastes, people etc the more creative ideas that seem to come out. I’m no scientist but am assured by friends who study this type of thing that stimulating your mind with ‘new’ things is very good for it.

So you hereby have permission to take yourself to see a movie, to read a book, treat yourself to a magazine, to make a new friend, to buy yourself a new CD, to try a new radio station and even to take a trip and visit a new culture!

Regularly stretch and exercise your brain and you’ll be surprised what it can produce when you call on it to perform.

2. Give Yourself Space

When it comes to physical fitness we know that exercise is a good thing – but so is rest.

I once heard of a study that was done on different groups of people to determine how much work they should do each week to be most productive on an hourly basis.

The finding was that six solid days work and one day with complete rest was the best balance for being productive.

If you’re anything like me, life’s pretty busy and the concept of space or rest can be a challenge – however if you want to be a productive and creative person you need to prioritize it.

I find that the best way to have times of relaxation in my week is to schedule them. Grab your diary and block out time to ‘just be’ over the next few weeks.

I give myself hour long breaks each day (at least one), days off each week and longer breaks off every few months.

PS: there are different types of ‘space’ that it can be worth giving yourself. The above might just sound like I give myself complete time off – however I also give myself space in my work to be creative.

For example, every week or two I set myself an hour or so to do some brainstorming. I’ll sit down with a notebook or my computer and either just write (free flow) or will sit down with a particular idea or problem that I want to work on and brainstorm around that. While these are ‘work’ times they are always done offline with the phone off and in a place where I know I won’t be interrupted. There is usually a very open agenda and it’s all about letting my mind take me where it takes me. It’s often in these sessions that I get great ideas.

3. Mix Up Your Environment

A few months ago I had a realization that really challenged me.

1. I spend most of my day in front of my computer – online.
2. I rarely have creative ideas when sitting in front of my computer – online.
3. Most of my creative ideas come when I’m out and about interacting with people or in different settings – offline.

My most creative ideas come when I’m not at home sitting in front of my computer – yet that’s where I spend most of my time. Hmmmmm.

Since having this realization I’ve started being intentional about going out more.

Now, if I’ve got a meeting, I schedule it for a cafe, park or bar.

Now, if I have to spend a morning writing posts or training material for b5, I do it offline in a cafe, at a mates place or even in the backyard.

4. Be a People Person

I’m an introvert. In fact some of the personality tests that I’ve done rate me at the most introverted level possible. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of people – it’s just that I don’t get my energy from interacting with others – I get it from being alone.

So I’m introverted – however I also know that if I give into my introversion too much that I’m depriving myself of something that I need to sustain myself – both emotionally but also creatively.

People bring new ideas, perspectives, questions and experiences to the problems that you’re attempting to solve in your own work. It’s when these new perspectives come together with your own that the creative sparks often fly and some of the best new ideas come to life.

So this little introvert has been on a bit of a mission lately – to spend more time with people – real people (and not just those virtual friendships that so many of us are used to having). I’m trying to do this both on a friendship/mateship level but also intentionally as a business strategy by finding a handful of creative people who I can regularly hang out with and swap ideas, brainstorm and dream with on a semi-regular basis.

5. Record Your Ideas

Those crazy and zany creative ideas that begin to come when you start stimulating yourself with new things, creating space, mixing up your environment and hanging out with creative people can come at the most unexpected times. The problem is that unless you have a way of capturing and processing them they will only ever remain as a fleeting thought – soon to be forgotten.

There are many ways to record ideas like this. Here are a few that I’ve used lately:

  • Idea folder on desktop – for those times that the ideas hit me while I’m in front of my computer – I jot them as a text file and park them in a folder on my desktop.
  • Memo’s on phone – I’m increasingly relying upon my phone to keep me organized (it’s synced with my computer’s calendar) but also to help me capture ideas. I’m constantly adding memos to myself.
  • SMS yourself - since getting a phone with a better memo function I don’t do this as much but I used to text message myself all the time with ideas
  • Leave yourself a voice message – sometimes it’s not practical to write yourself a memo or text message and you need to capture an idea verbally. I do this my calling my mobile phone, from my mobile phone which then diverts me to my voice mail service where I leave myself a message with the idea that’s buzzing around in my head. In a sense this becomes a dictaphone of ideas. In recent times I’ve stopped doing this and have started recording my ideas on my phone in video to replay later.
  • Notebooks – yes, very un-webby – but effective. I’m a moleskine fan and try to have one with me when I’m on the road and needing to capture longer ideas but am unable to use my computer.

I’m sure you will have other ways of capturing creative ideas (please share them below). However you do it, the key is not just to get them down – but to work out how to refine them and do something with them. I suspect that most well intentioned creative types have a method of capturing ideas – however if you’re like the challenge is in collating them. Most of us probably have notebooks, phones and computers full of ideas (not to mention the 400 post it notes gathering dust on our desks) however we don’t actually ever go back to them.

I’m attempting to spend a little time at the end of each day going through all my notes and writing them down in an ideas document on my computer that I regularly return to. It seems to be working so far.

By no means do I have a monopoly on this ‘how to be creative’ stuff. Having chatted to many of you I know that ProBlogger readers are some of the most creative people going around and I’d love to hear your ideas on the topic.

When are you at your most creative? How do you get yourself in a creative zone?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. 45N5 says:

    “I’m sure you will have other ways of capturing creative ideas (please share them below).”

    I love my whiteboard, I can have an idea noted and be back working before you can reach for you moleskin ;-)

    I’ll need to get creative on mixing up the environment since packing my desktop to the cafe might be a difficult undertaking, I’m laptopless. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  2. ANP says:

    Wonderful stuff, and I have nothing to add. You’ve said it all. At its core, creativity comes from allowing our inner child to play, and when we are working all the time, not allowing ourselves to be flexible, and not having an open, child-like awareness of the world around us we are making our inner child unhappy and stifled.

    I would say that extroverts can find value in forced isolation; it pushes them out of their comfort zone and forces them to get in touch with themselves.

    All good stuff.

  3. That’s interesting I wouldn’t have had you down as an introvert.

    ANP: So in contrast introverts should force more social situations upon themselves to exapnd their comfort zone. I class myself as an introvert and often have to do this very thing.

  4. Darren,

    I’ve really been enjoying your posts on creativity!

    I identify a lot with mixing up the environment. I’ve started biking, and it’s provided a great way for me to get away from the desk, do something good for my body, and stimulate my mind.

    With that said, biking poses a capture problem. I can’t take notes and ride. I can try writing down when I get home, but it’s hard to remember several small thoughts at the end of an hour long ride. Maybe I need a voice recorder…

    Great stuff,
    Andrew

  5. gillian2 says:

    ” Most of my creative ideas come when I’m out and about interacting with people or in different settings – offline. ”

    It’s really true. I’ve started golf, and when I practice hard, creativity comes.

    Thanks.

  6. Not A Pothead says:

    Smoke a little pot, go for a walk and take a small notebook and pencil with you. Sit in a park and watch the clouds – just try not to fall asleep, and try to remember to write down the ideas :)

  7. John Bokma says:

    Darren,

    I currently use what I call a blog box to keep my ideas (see http://johnbokma.com/mexit/2007/01/03/the-blog-box-getting-things-done.html ) and this works quite well, at least to store ideas somewhere. I still have to find a good way to manage my blog time better.

  8. Notebooks… notebooks… notebooks. For me, it is much easier to write ideas and develop them on a scratchpad than via a keyboard. I try to keep a constant list of things to do nearby, and a few pages of scribbled notes and ideas to keep things flowing.

    Of course, I do most of that at work rather than for the blog, but maybe I should change that a little.

  9. At Home Mom says:

    I am a HUGE fan of notebooks. My husband goes nuts because I have notebooks full of my ideas all over the house, but they are just so handy. If you are busy cooking dinner or playing with the kids and something occurs to you, it´s far easier to scribble a few notes down on paper than go turn on your computer and type in one little idea!

    It has also been helpful for me to spend some time just hanging out with my family. Before, I would work until the wee hours, but now I take an hour or two to watch tv with my husband after our son is in bed. And some days, I even (gasp) take the entire afternoon off to go into town, have ice cream, windowshop, etc. Funny how much more productive I am after a break like that. I think our brains just need to reboot sometimes!

  10. Jamil says:

    Thanks for the great ideas on stimulating creativity. Another good read on the topic of creativity is “The Artist’s Way”. Like Darren’s article, the book talks about how to replenish and nourish your creativity, as well as how to handle the obstacles that get in the way of your creativity.

  11. angelawd says:

    I enjoyed this post – and you sparked some ideas for me on my own blog! Here’s a link to the post where I’ve quoted this blog article: http://pearlwriting.blogspot.com/2007/05/stimulate-yourself.html

    Thanks for the ideas!

  12. Darren

    Great ideas on creativity. I completely agree about ideas coming during “offline” hours instead of online hours.
    I find that conferences or workshops work best for me when it comes to new ideas. Listening to new ideas being presenter is a great way to allow your brain to come up with new ideas.

    Justin
    http://www.justindriscoll.net

  13. Todd says:

    I find sleep to be a big help for creativity. I can’t tell you how many times I wake up from a good night’s sleep with a good idea.

  14. John Weaver says:

    I do the same thing. I write little text docs and put them in a folder or I email myself with ideas to adress later.

    I like the tips expecially on ‘space’ and ‘environment’.

    JW

  15. Ali says:

    I get my creative ideas a lot while doing housework and home stuff.

    Stuff like washing dishes, vacuuming, even while playing with the kids (though they get really upset when I run off to jot down something).

    That kind of stuff makes me just think and I end up talking to myself a lot and come up with crazy ideas, some work some don’t.

  16. Wolf Stone says:

    I’ve read that author Jeffrey Deaver of ‘Bone Collector’ fame sits in a locked room with no lights to get his creative juices flowing.

  17. Ryan says:

    Oh wow. I totally forgot about the voice recorder on my cell phone. (and here I have been thinking I needed to go pick up a recorder ).

    Thanks for the ideas.

  18. adam says:

    thanks for this post darren, i found it very useful

    as an introvert as well, i can def relate to #4 and agree.

  19. I write tons of notes and lists to myself and store them on my computer. Lately I’ve been using a new service called Jott. You can sign up for free (at least for now) on their web site (www.jott.com). They have a toll-free number you can call to leave yourself short messages and they transcribe them and send them to your email address. I use this when I’m out in my car or in a place where I can’t write down what I’m thinking. I’ll grab my phone, dial up Jott and by the time I return to my computer, the email is there with my transcribed message in my inbox. I’ve even created a mail filter so that these “Jotts” are stored in a special mail folder. Really cool!

  20. Tyler Ingram says:

    I can be pretty creative.. I did code my own blogging script!

    I also like having a blackberry because I can leave myself notes on various things throughout the day if I want to remember them later for blogging or for anything else actually.

    I’m most creative around people I think.Me and a buddy come up with some pretty interesting ideas for businesses and things its fun.

    Today I’ve been working out in the backyard. Laptop, patio furnature and a nice warm sunny day. I’ve been most productive here I think so far.

  21. I’ve relied on the computer all my [working] life, but I never did stop using notepads and post-its in between. I never leave the house without them (I have pens practically everywhere, too). I find myself most creative when I least expect to be — during dinner with friends, over a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, while running. I just know that I have to do something, not just sit somewhere quiet and pry at my brain until I can’t even think anymore. I get extremely creative while doing other things that I enjoy. Again, you made good points there, Darren — these series of posts on creativity has definitely helped a lot.

  22. Security says:

    Low Mood Music appears to be an enhancer for generating a creative state of mind.

    It would be interesting to poll the readers to ascertain if time of day or Seasons have any effect on their creativity – also are they as creative on Mondays as they are over the Weekends?

  23. daevyd says:

    Darren,

    Great article, thanks.

    I am a pen and paper guy myself. Has anybody tried mind mapping?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map

  24. Al Davies says:

    HA. When I first read the article my eyes naturally focused on the main headings of the list…. i was like “why is darren telling me to ‘stimulate myself”?” sorry- couldn’t help myself

  25. Long walks act as creative stimulants for me … the more wilderness-like, the better, especially if the weather is a bit wild.

    As for recording ideas, I’ve started using a tiny digital voice recorder. Mine saves voice files in five folders which is handy for organisation – eg. I use folder B for blog ideas, folder D for diary-type notes, E for e-mail drafts (the most tactful phrases usually come to me when walking or sitting in traffic).

    I also use voice recognition software at home (Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 which is brilliant), so whatever voice notes I take can be transcribed into text very easily and with surprisingly few errors. This makes carrying a voice recorder as good as having a laptop with me, at least for recording ideas. If the voice recognition fails because of too much background noise, I can still listen to the notes and type them in myself.

  26. Thank you for sharing your ideas. I think they’ll help to improve my work by getting ‘better’ ideas.
    Personally, i keep track of my ideas using my Nokia 9500, it is ever on my side.

  27. Ahmad says:

    Yep. Agree with you Darren. The most idea come out when I offline. But at least the penetration of the ideas is when I online and it growing when I had a discussion, a conversation and when i alone outside trying to figure about how to implement the ideas and make it grow. Anyway, good post. Love to read it.

  28. tuan rumah says:

    I really amazed with your finding.. solid and complete point, easy to understand and absorb. Do you study on these points first before you write? really i can’t think where do you find time for this? I really like point no 1 – Stimulate yourself. Now i understand why we need go to movie, hang out with friends, listen to music.. i will try to do of these, though very tight schedule.. trying juggle between my works and my family

    Travel update on Malaysia

  29. I’ve done mind mapping; I actually did quite a lot of that back in college and it helped a great deal. I recommend that everyone try it out at least once.

  30. zewt says:

    i think number 4 is crucial. we can always find something creative in us. only then… the creativity is… original…

  31. Leon says:

    ” Most of my creative ideas come when I’m out and about interacting with people or in different settings – offline. ”

    Absolutely true, almost all of my ideas come to me while I’m away from a computer.
    It’s really easy keeping track of ideas if one has Firefox and the zotero extension.

  32. FameFire says:

    Hi Mr. Darren, I agree with you all comments. Really helping and must be used in our daily life. I like to keep myself at my computer and search for ideas. But when I interact with other people or bloggers on internet it helps me a lot. I come to know new ideas, thoughts with sometimes changes my research totally opposite directions. I also use a folder with name “Don’t Forget Me” on my desktop with several sub folders “Ideas, Web Links, Appointments, Important Works etc. One more thing I use to remember and push myself to do that fast – that is, I write the Task on a paper and just stick it where my eyes can catch it easily, near my bed, on the door of my bed room, nearby by computer etc. It really push me to do and it works. Thank you for such a wonderful post.
    Regards

  33. Wovor says:

    I have very creative hours driving along the highway in a car without radio. I think a dangerous thing to creativity is the sweet poison of being entertained wherever you are, be it MP3 or radio or TV. This could be the sixth point on your list.

  34. Ryan Peal says:

    Spot on Darren on all fronts – definitely think anyone could put all of these ideas in practice and start seeing a change in their creative thinking. One that works well for me is having a notepad by the bed to jot down some of the last ideas of the day that keep you from falling asleep or the ones that wake you up. Some of my best ideas (this sounds crazy) have come from dreams. Just another one to add to the mix.

  35. Kaydee says:

    You are absolutely right about the need for rest in our lives. I am finding it to be a bit of a challenge now that I have a one year old son. I love him dearly of course, but children do require quite a bit of attention. I’m also really getting into blogging now and it is helping me mentally. I look forward to it helping financially because like I said I do have a child and any extra income is greatly appreciated. I’m so proud of you and I don’t even know you. However, I’d like to get to understand more of what you do and how you do it. When you get a chance, you can check out my blog and give pointers! Bless you and I am off to sleep (yeah! For now.)

  36. Larchitect says:

    Great post. I find that I need rest and exercise to be most creative. The rest part is obvious, but the exercise part can be counterintuitive. I find that a part of my mind often goes off on its own when I am exercising and works on all sorts of things. Often a possible solution to a problem or a great idea comes when I’m in the middle of a long run, bike or swim. It’s difficult to take any kind of notes when doing any of those things, especially swimming, but I do carry my phone with me (for emergencies) and it is pretty easy to pull it out and push the record button and leave a memo to myself.

    Another point about exercising being counterintuitive, I often find that when I come home from work I am tired and my mind says go take a nap. But if I go for a run or swim I find more often than not that I am energized when I get home. It is a good thing. (Of course the endorphines don’t hurt either! ;-) )

  37. truecreative says:

    as much as u non creative ppl want to be creative… u can’t learn to be creative… not truly creative… u don’t have to work and practice being creative…
    u just are…

    & even if u do feel you have done all of the steps on trying to become creative… it’s not the same thing…it’s not the same feelings… u don’t have natural creative thoughts and impulses….

    creativity isn’t something u work at trying to be…
    it isn’t learned…

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