Tips to staying creative, even when you’re busy

Home Column Tips to staying creative, even when you're busy

idea factoryIt wasn’t supposed to go like this. After working remote for two years, workers were said to have learned a lesson: They vowed to never fully and completely get back on the hamster wheel; to take their work-life balance with them back to the workplace. Instead, I’m hearing from managers that the pressure has never been more intense, and managers and executives alike need creative ideas to keep up with relentless changes.

I’m fascinated by how entrepreneurs and innovators generate incredible ideas. I believe it requires frequent introspection and constant retooling—and keeping a journal can also help. Moreover, it requires self-analysis of how and where you’re getting ideas and great intention to keep the ideas flowing even when you’re busy.

To that end, I wanted to offer some suggestions on how to keep your “idea factory” running smoothly no matter what’s on your plate.

First, inspect your idea factory regularly. One way to do this is to look at your to-do list and your key projects list. Both are snapshots of the ideas you’re working on right now. What does your list reveal? Are the ideas mostly related to your basic functional duties or are there also ideas related to larger projects, opportunities and goals?

Next, move in a systematic fashion. Routine details can easily consume us, and they are also needful of ideas. But if you go for days and days running like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, your idea factory is greatly in need of retooling. It’s not that you aren’t generating ideas; you almost certainly are. The problem is you aren’t moving on them systematically; you’re probably being reactive as opposed to proactive. You are slighting your big ideas while allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the tactical details. You’ll never get ahead this way—at most, you’ll only get by.

To thoroughly inspect your idea factory, try this for a week: Wherever you go, use your smartphone to jot down ideas as they occur. Checking up on your ideas will make you more aware of the many possibilities that are flashing into your mind. Some will be lifters; some will be poppers. The lifters are those you “borrow” from other industries or people—or even from competitors. The poppers are those that come out of your own creative process. If you’re in the defeatist mode or sustainer mode when you conjure an idea, you might tune it out. You might reject it the minute it occurs no matter how promising it might be.

Lastly, identify when and where and at what time of day you do your best thinking. I’ve asked this of managers in 54 countries. The overwhelming response? In the shower, followed by driving in the car.

How about these questions: What do you do to get yourself unstuck when facing a vexing problem? How did you inject creativity to handle a task in the last 24 hours? How often do you come up with solutions that others compliment you on as being “creative?”

Jot down your responses so you fully explore these issues. If you take time to think about these questions and their answers, you’ll gain further insight into your own ways of fortifying your idea factory.

Robert Tucker is president and founder of Innovation Resource Consulting Group based in Santa Barbara, Calif. He is an award-winning global futurist and keynote speaker with a client list that includes over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies.

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