Some days, it’s hard to feel inspired. You don’t feel unproductive, per se—just lacking in creativity.
The trouble is, what if you can’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike? What if you need to create something fantastic?
You have a project that needs brainstorming, a piece that needs writing, a new offering that needs refining.
You really, really need a burst of creativity.
Fortunately, there are ways to make yourself more inclined to produce creative, inspired work. These strategies are both time-tested and science-backed, and easy to fit into your workday, or implement before the day begins.
Ready to have the most creative workday ever? Keep reading.
1. Go for a walk
If you’re a repeat reader of my articles (color me flattered, I might add) you may be aware that I am a huge proponent of walks. For me, I find a quick 15-minute walk to be a great way to break up my day, make me more productive, give me a quick burst of energy, and just generally create a mental headspace where I am capable of putting out higher quality work.
I’m such a vocal advocate for developing a regular walking habit that I probably sound like a broken record—but the reality is, it’s truly applicable here. In a study by Stanford, walking has been shown to have a positive impact on creativity. Walking was found to boost “creative ideation” as compared with sitting, and walking outside (versus walking inside on a treadmill) was found to have the most significant increase in creative thought—twice as much as sitting indoors.
So, consider adding a 15-minute walk to your morning routine, walking to a nearby coffee shop for a creative brainstorming session, or simply switching gears with a short walk to break up your workday. You’ll likely come back refreshed and more able to produce high-quality creative work.
2. Start your day with meditation
Meditation can be intimidating. It’s something that feels hard to jump into, and easy to get wrong. Surely you need to have years of experience meditating to reap the benefits, right?
Research suggests no—in fact, meditation has been found to have a positive, immediate impact on creative thinking (as well as long-lasting effects) even in novice meditators. Meditation, it was found, can have a positive, lasting impact on our ability to come up with and develop new ideas—in short, key qualities when it comes to thinking creatively.
In terms of the study mentioned, participants meditated for 25 minutes prior to completing a “thinking” task. If you don’t have 25 minutes, there’s nothing wrong with starting small; plenty of meditation apps are structured around shorter sessions.
That being said, if you continually find that you’re “too busy” to meditate, it was Dr. Sukhraj S. Dhillon who said: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday—unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Just saying.
3. Listen to music
This is because listening to music can help us enter “mind wandering mode,” which involves more of a daydreaming, relaxed frame of mind. As opposed to the mental space required for focused, detail-oriented work, listening to music can create a mental environment ripe for creative thought.
However, the type of music is key—or rather, it’s key to make sure you’re choosing a type of music you personally enjoy listening to. Sounds easy, right? It really is—beyond that, there are some parameters related to sound and beats per minute, but it’s most critical to listen to a type of music you enjoy.
So, don’t worry if classical music isn’t your jam—when it comes to using music to enhance creative thought, go for what you personally enjoy.
4. Free write—using pen and paper
If you want to enhance your creativity, consider spending 10 to 15-minutes free writing. Give yourself carte blanche; write about your ideas for a new project, your current concerns, what you ate for breakfast—anything goes, really.
The one caveat? Close your laptop, put away your tablet, and pull out a notebook. Writing by hand has been found to increase neural activity in the brain, similar to meditation. When you’re writing by hand, you are using more of your brain, especially in the case of cursive writing. Handwriting also forces us to slow down, which has a mindfulness effect—which has also been found to potentially spark creative thought.
5. Spend time in an environment with ambient noise
To do more creative work, you might want to consider heading to your favorite coffee shop, tea house, or even neighborhood bar (assuming, of course, that you’re self-employed here—hey, you’re the boss!).
Why seek out loud spaces for creative work? It has been found that working in an environment with moderate ambient background noise actually enhances creativity. That being said, there’s definitely a limit—while moderate volume spaces (around 70 decibels) help us feel more creative, spaces that are too loud (over 85 decibels) end up hurting creativity. This is based on the fact that information processing is impaired in noisier environments, which hurts creativity.
So, what does this mean on a practical level? You might want to save a quiet work-from-home day for work that requires more precision and focus, rather than work that involves a lot of creative thinking, innovation, and problem solving. For that, it’s a good idea to seek out a comfy coffee shop or other space where there’s enough background noise to foster creativity.
Need some inspiration on where to work? Check out Workfrom and see if your city is listed; you’ll find reviews and information on popular public workspaces (think coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and so on) for a number of cities.
6. Work during your “non-optimal” time
So, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of creating your own “user manual.” In essence, your user manual is a guide you’ve created (likely just mentally, but writing it out isn’t a bad idea either) that outlines when, where, and how you do your best work, and are most productive.
Got it? Good—because I’m about to tell you to throw your user manual out the window.
Okay, not really. But, if you want to force more creativity into your workflow, it may be smart to try mixing it up, and consider working outside of the window where you feel you’re most productive.
This is referred to as working during your “non-optimal” time—in other words, any time that isn’t the time of day when you feel most productive and able to work. As counterintuitive as this seems, in a study by the Department of Psychological Science at Albion College, it was found that participants experienced “greater insight problem solving performance” when they were forced to solve problems during their “non-optimal” time of day, versus their preferred time of day. The argument is that when we’re forced to work during our non-optimal time of day, we’re experiencing a reduction in inhibitions, and thus can be more creative.
So, if you’re typically a morning person, you might want to try scheduling your creative brainstorming for later in the evening, and seeing what arises. More of a night owl? Getting up early might make it easier to think creatively and produce more innovative, inspired work.
Which strategy do you find the most effective? Have you personally tried any of these tactics? I’d love to know what worked for you. Leave me a comment and share your experience!