Sunday, February 7, 2010

Practicing Creativity

I'll admit it. The past week, I hit a creative slump. It happens every so often, and normally I just have to work through it—either by distracting myself with something unrelated, doing more research, taking a break, or just pushing forward until I have a break through. This week, I turned to the research method, but decided to research the creative process itself. Not a new concept for me, as it was my thesis topic in college (maybe one day I'll share some of my findings...if only I could find my old paper!).

Anyway, back to my research. I stumbled upon a really great article on the 99% network, "RSS Creativity: Routines, Systems, Spontaneity", by Mark McGuinness. It describes some of the more mundane parts that help with the creative process, ways that make it easier to get to that "A-Ha!" moment. Below is a recap of some of the most important points of the article, or, read the full article here.


Most of us don't like to think about the labor involved in creativity. It takes away the glamour and the magic. But real creators know different. They know that creative work isn't particularly glamorous. It requires discipline, routine, and a nitpicky attention to detail. We often talk about “the creative process,” but it's really several interlocking processes. The magic happens at the point where they intersect.

Here are three core processes you need to coordinate in your work as a creative professional:


Many creative people lead apparently boring working lives, sticking to the same routine every day. They do this because they understand instinctively what neuroscience has now confirmed – routine is a key that unlocks creative inspiration.

Certain times of day are especially conducive to focused creative work. The effect is magnified when familiar objects, surroundings, and other stimuli (coffee, background music) become associative triggers for creative states of mind.

Takeaway: Notice what time(s) of day you are most alert and creative. Dedicate that time to focused creative work. Use the same tools, in the same surroundings, even the same background music, so that they become triggers for your “creative zone.”

A rock-solid productivity system performs a dual function for your creativity: (1) It ensures that all ideas and action steps are captured, so that nothing slips through the cracks, and (2) When you are confident that everything important has been captured, you are free to focus fully on the task in hand.

Systems are different from routines, since they are not dependent on circumstances. Major events can play havoc with your routine. When this happens, a good system acts as a safety net.

Takeaway: Take a few moments to review how you spend your time. Study productivity systems and experiment to see what works for you.


Real creativity involves spontaneity and surprise, whether a simple “Aha!” moment or the lightning bolt of inspiration. Paradoxically, the harder you work at routines and systems, the more likely you are to experience that bolt from the blue.

But nose-to-the-grindstone productivity won't get you very far unless you take a break, relax in the bath, have a beer with friends, browse the internet or a bookshop, or go for a walk. One of the best things about being a creative professional is that all of this stuff technically counts as work!

Takeaway: Take breaks from the usual routine. Be open to new people, places, and experiences. Welcome the thoughts that appear from nowhere. Have a notebook or phone handy to capture them."


Do you have any other suggestions, or specific things you do to help with your creativity?

No comments: