Ideation has a lot of sexy connotations. It’s creative, it’s brainstorming, it’s the spark of something completely new. But here’s the thing. When you’re trying to come up with a new idea, especially in a time crunch, you can quickly fall into a creativity slump. The pressure to be brilliant can make you…well, idea-less.
To help, we’ve gathered easy, fun and free ideation strategies that you can put to use pretty much anywhere. They apply to everyone, from startup founders and product marketers to designers and executives.
Take the pressure off
If you are pressuring yourself to think of an amazing, fully thought-out, unique idea in the next hour, that’s way too much pressure. Avoid giving yourself such a strict deadline and instead, start your creative process a few hours (or even days) before you’d like to have an idea. Take a deep breath, grab your favorite drink, and remind yourself that you can do this. Then start brainstorming.
Allow ideas to marinate in the background of your day. It’s okay to explicitly brainstorm, but it’s also great to let your mind wander. This is why so many of us come up with great ideas in the shower! Research supports this fact: monotonous, day to day activities can lead to some of the most powerful ideas. So, start that laundry, go on a walk, hop in the shower or spend the evening cooking. You never know what will float your way.
Listen to happy tunes
Music can be a distraction, but it can also be a great way to help get those creative juices flowing. Try listening to instrumentals of a genre you know you love (if you can’t stand classical but love upbeat electronica, then the latter should be where you start). Studies show that listening to happy music, in particular, boosts dopamine and encourages creative thinking, allowing you to generate new ideas while tapping your feet and bopping your head along to some cheerful tunes. You shouldn’t let music become a distraction, but listening to instrumentals can be helpful when you feel discouraged.
Sometimes, the idea of needing to come up with good ideas (whether in the workplace or in class) can be full of pressure. Relax—and grab a pen and notebook! One of the best ways to start thinking creatively is writing freely. Write without thinking about what you’re writing. Write paragraphs or bulleted lists. Scribble. Set a timer for 5 minutes and see how much you can write down. The next time you do this exercise, set a timer for 10 minutes. Eventually, this will become second nature to you.
Chat with coworker
If you’re having trouble brainstorming new and innovative ideas, you’re not alone. Chances are your coworkers are in the same boat. And what better way to stimulate creativity in the workplace than brainstorming with your peers? Collaborating as a team may be what you need to get you out of the rut.
But you don’t always have to discuss work projects or assignments with your coworkers to come up with better ideas. Sometimes taking a break by having a simple conversation about your weekend brunch plans, that awesome movie you watched on Netflix the night before, or the Coachella lineup can help you feel inspired and motivated. It doesn’t take an army to fight off a creative block, but starting a conversation about the things you love and care about could spark some inspiration within you.
Play with work toys
Try messing around with the items on your desk. Yup, just spending a few minutes playing with the things on your desk, such as your mouse, pens, stapler, or that weird bobble head that a vendor gave you five years ago, can encourage you to use your imagination in a different way.
Or, take it a step further. Try rearranging all the objects on your desk or creating a make-believe scene. This 10-minute activity can help you get in the brainstorming mindset. Instead of staring at a computer screen, you are using your brain and hands to create something new with the objects around you.
Step out of your environment
There’s a big world out there, so get outside! Sitting inside all day can stifle your creativity. And why wouldn’t it? The recycled air, fluorescent lighting, and stiff desk chair aren’t exactly conducive to innovative thinking. If the weather permits, try going for a walk outside to get some fresh air and move your body. Stretch your legs, plug in your headphones, and take a deep breath. Something as simple as a 15-minute walk around the block can ease your mind and help you recharge before setting foot back into the office.
But even if it’s too cold outside to leave the office for a while, relocating to a different workspace can also help generate new ideas. Sit in another room at work, set up camp at a coffee shop, or simply stand at your desk.
Do you have a favorite creativity hack? Share it in the comments.