2 ways to be more creative right now

I gave this as a speech recently.

I’m a freelance copywriter and every day, I work on projects that require me to think creatively. Creative thinking is a big theme right now in the world of work, and sometimes we have a hard time finding creative juice when we need it. So today I’ll share a few ideas on how to get unstuck.

Both of these have helped me in a slump:

  1. Messing up my desk.
  2. Wasting time going for a walk.

Let’s start with the first one:

  1.  Messing up my desk.

I’ll confess: my desk is always a mess. (Maybe my entire house actually, but we won’t discuss that.) I wrote this piece on a desk so messy that I had to carve out space for the keyboard. For me, a messy desk makes it easier for me to jump from lily to lily in the creative pond. Ideas don’t hide in boxes, but sit tucked away in jagged corners. A mess on my desk keeps my brain from becoming too comfortable with its surroundings.

And there’s a scientific basis for you logical thinkers out there. In one study, people were given 2 environments to complete a creative project. The first was a messy room–jagged lines, stuff strewn all over–and the second was a neat and tidy room–straight, clean lines, everything in its right place. The two groups sat in these rooms and collected ideas based on a theme.

When all of the ideas were submitted to an independent panel, who do you think had the better ideas?

The ideas from the messy room. They were rated as much more creative and innovative than the ones from the tidy room. That’s because we work more freely in an environment that encourages messy thought. We don’t restrict ourselves.

And a fun fact: Even Einstein seemed to know this trick.

  1. Wasting time going for a walk.

I’ve had some humdingers of delicious problems handed down to me from clients lately. One afternoon I was working through something so intensely that I realized I hadn’t taken the dog out for 8 hours. (Whoops.) To atone for my sin, I took him to the dog park. It takes about 20 minutes to walk there.

To be honest, that kind of break is a big waste of time for me when I’ve got a big push. But something happened to me on that walk: As I walked, I felt my brain relaxing. The structure of the problem in my head began to rearrange itself. Thoughts and ideas started coming faster and faster–so fast that I started talking to myself out loud about what was going on in my head.

(At this point, I put headphones on so I looked like I was on a call. I couldn’t be “that crazy lady” at the park.)

When I got back to my desk, my brain had somehow worked out the problem I had been struggling with for the past three hours. I looked it up and found that my experience is backed up by science:

This year, a Stanford University study found that the simple act of walking can boost your creativity up to 60 percent.

That means if you are working on a specific problem, you are measurably more creative while you are walking and for a short period of time after you finish walking. It doesn’t matter where you walk – people experienced the same effect when they walked around a drab office and when they walked on a green, tree-lined street.

So next time you’re on a desperate deadline, throw a few papers around the room and then waste some time by taking a walk. What happens in your brain might surprise you.

Creativity is a state of mind you can choose. Last year I had another big breakthrough in creativity, and you can read about that one here.

How the best ideas and creatives are grown

How ideas, and creatives, are grown

I believe this is a Robbie Porter illustration. Correct me if I’m wrong. Click through for the link.

The most important question to ask yourself before starting a project

A friend of mine is an entrepreneur. He asks himself a question before starting any project:

“How does this make the world a better place?”

Most people blog to make money or gain an audience. I’m not here to do either. I’m here to satisfy my own desire to create. My content will be as thoughtful as I can make it, so it won’t happen as often as the bloggers who pound their keyboards with fervor, into a vortex of explosive comments and likes.

Every creative has a choice: To produce a lot of content with very little thought put into it, or not as much content with a lot of thought put into it.

Thinking this through with my blog as an example:

If I produce a lot of content, I will have high page rankings, traffic, and probably ads. I will probably even make money. But most of my content will have little or no meaning, and simply add more digital trash to our world. There will be some oddballs and idiots who will show up, but smart audiences will ignore me. 

Most of all, I will look back on all of that work with shame.

If I produce occasional content – no matter how fantastic – I will be ignored by fellow bloggers and almost all SEO metrics and page ranking algorithms. Very few people will read what I’ve written.

The thing is, not many people want to read, look at, or spend time with things that make them think; this keeps my audience inherently limited. I’m also competing with many distracting things online. If you’re spending time with me, then I want to respect that time. If I inspire one person with anything that I’ve done here, I have improved the world.

And I will be happy with it – which is what matters to me. And ultimately, that’s what should matter to you – because you grow when you pay attention to better content, better writing, and better art. My ultimate goal is to create something that brightens your world and gives you ideas. I’d love for you to read me on a Sunday morning by yourself, with your first coffee.  

Along that thread, I have shut down comments. I don’t want to write with the goal of churning responses from people.  If you really want to tell me something about anything I’ve said here, send me an email. I’ll be thrilled to hear from you.

So, welcome to the inside of my head. I hope you like it here. Let’s make the world better.