Updated: Jan 4, 2018
I do my best thinking when I’m moving. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired, but moving gets my juices flowing.
Not long ago, I was having a conversation about creativity with a brilliant equine therapist. She told me that she had some of her greatest epiphanies while mucking horse stalls. In other words, her greatest “ah-ha moments” came while shoveling shit.
The thing I’ve noticed about these creative stokes of genius that arrive when doing something other than sitting in front of a screen, is that they often get stuck somewhere between our minds and paper. I’ll think about a great idea, talk about it, but what do I do with it?
Lately I’ve been studying productivity and creativity, and I’ve gleaned a few things that have been helpful for me. Maybe, they will be helpful for you too.
1) Undershoot. As a recovering perfectionist, I am the queen of unreasonable expectations (for myself). If I’m going to write a song, I need the cadence to be perfect, the lyrics meaningful, and the melody to be solid before I think about sharing it.
Do you know how crippling it is to hold yourself to ridiculously high expectations? If you’re a novice runner and someone tells you on your third day running, “Next month, I want you ready to run a marathon,” my guess is you’d give up running pretty quickly. If you’re anything like me you’d think, “there is no way I can do that, it’s too overwhelming, I’m not gonna waste my time trying."
Lower your goals. Goals can be wonderful for measuring progress and giving us direction, but they can also be self-defeating.
Rather than pressuring yourself to write the great American novel straight out of the gate, try writing what comes to mind. Commit to writing one page a day, no more, no less. If you end up writing more, great! But if not, then you’re good, you’ve done your goal for the day. I think you’ll be amazed at how small, daily steps accumulate.
2) Figure out what your “mucking the stall” is. Mine changes. Sometimes, it’s being outside, typically doing something repetitive- mowing, jogging, etc. Somewhere where I can’t escape my thoughts or get distracted. I love technology, but Lord knows, you leave me in alone with my computer, and I’ll travel down the Internet rabbit hole and become totally distracted.
Other times, the border-line extrovert in me needs to be stimulated by people. Going to a local coffee shop is great for stimulating my creativity. It allows me to be energized from people while also letting me focus on what's in front of me.
As a songwriter (back in the day), one of my favorite sources of creativity was playing my guitar outdoors. Being barefoot and watching the sunset, or sitting under the shade of a tree was something that deeply grounded me and seemed to spawn on creativity.
3) Read, listen, and reflect more. Perhaps my greatest source of creativity and idea generation comes from learning. Learning has many mediums, but for me this most often looks like reading or listening to a podcast on a topic I am interested in. The more of a foundation of knowledge I build around a particular topic, the more I am able to look at it front different angles.
The more we learn about a given topic, the more we begin to troubleshoot. We do this when we think about the questions we have about a given topic. What work has not been done? What perspective can I bring to this topic based on my education and experiences? What questions have not been asked?
4) Find a way to document ideas as they come up. We are a distracted generation, and that’s okay, but we must find the settings and circumstances that allow us to be free with our thoughts. If yours is outside, like mine is, I’ve found that having a phone near by to dictate ideas that pop up has been helpful. Maybe it’s carrying a journal (old school, I know), or maybe your computer works just fine for you.
If you find that your ideas strike most when you're out and about, and only have your phone on you, there are some tools that might be useful for documenting those insights as they happen. You can find a great summary of some of the best Apps for note-taking here.
I've really enjoyed Evernote, and love that it syncs across my devices.
If you are more of a pen and paper kind of person, bullet journals have been all the rage this past year. Bullett journals can be divided by topics, events, tasks, and notes. The journal uses symbols, bullets, and signifiers to help you keep organized and prioritized. It's a pretty ingenious solution for creative folks who also like a little bit of structure. You can get a standard blank notebook and create your own using tips from the link above. There's even an app for helping you track your journaling (there's an app for everything). If you want a pre-made bullet journal, there are some great ones you can find on Etsy.
Using artistic mediums to document ideas is perhaps one of my favorite methods. I'm not much of a photographer, but taking pictures of images that inspire is a fanastic and easy way to generate creativity. Other imagery tools include creating pin-boards or "vision boards". It sounds incredibly hokie, but people swear by vision boards. For some excellent ideas on how to do this, check out the video below.
Below is a picture of the wall above my desk. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "vision board" but each picture has significance to me.
There are autographed pictures of Pat Morita (aka Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid) and Amy Poehler (Leslie Knope is a goddess), a picture of Big Sur which is my favorite place in the world, a photo from a kayaking trip I took that holds particular significance for me, the double ladders from my treehouse as as kid, and a picture of the two women who inspire me most in the world: my mom and Gam (grandmother).
If you look close enough, you'll see some more photos of family on my desk, a BA votive featuring Mother Betty White, my husband's camera that I "borrowed", a tennis ball which holds a special meaning, and stones created by some amazing teenage girls at our last Empowerment Summit. To me, it's important to have lots of light and to be surrounded by things are meaningful to me.