The popular image of creativity involves artists, writers or musicians lazing away their days until that moment when inspiration strikes, then crafting their works of genius in a fever pitch.
But for most small-business owners and their employees, that portrait of creativity simply doesn’t ring true. Even if you’re in a creative industry like advertising or graphic design, you have no time to sit around and wait for inspiration to come calling—you’ve got deadlines to meet!
Unfortunately, the constant deadlines and time pressures of today’s workplace have many employees feeling decidedly uncreative. An iStock by Getty Images survey of creative professionals found that nearly half (48 percent) say the level of creativity in their industry has stagnated or declined in the past decade. Nearly one-fourth (23 percent) admit they spend fewer than two hours a day, on average, doing “creative” work at work.
The major culprit? Lack of time—63 percent of respondents report they don’t have time for "creative reflection and inspiration,” 70 percent say they want more creative time, and 60 percent report they’ve had some great ideas in the past year but didn’t get the time or support at work to carry them out.
If photographers, copywriters, designers and others whose jobs are to be creative can’t manage to do it, you may just wonder, what chance does the average entrepreneur have?
No need to panic. It is possible to be creative, no matter how busy your days are or how tight your deadline is. Here are six tactics to try:
1. Use props. Music and caffeine were also cited as top aids to creativity in the iStock survey. The creative team at one place I worked kept the radio playing to boost their creative juices. (If this bugs some of your staff, use headphones instead.) And whether your beverage of choice is coffee, tea, Diet Coke (like me) or an energy drink, something that provides a boost of quick energy can be just what you need to stimulate ideas in a pinch.
2. Change the venue. Sitting at your desk staring at a computer is not the place to get inspired. In fact, just 34 percent of the respondents to the iStock survey say the workplace is among their top three locations for creativity. Inspiration also strikes while they’re commuting (34 percent), in the shower (25 percent) or while working out (22 percent). One of my colleagues puts her mind to work on generating ideas during her morning run. (Bonus: The fact that she nearly always gets good ideas while pounding the pavement helps her justify the time she spends working out.) Next time you're stuck in an idea rut, try taking a walk, heading to a local coffeehouse or brainstorming outside to spark your creative juices.
3. Work in spurts. Grinding away for 12 hours at a stretch can leave you burned out and dry of any ideas. Instead, try working for intense, 90-minute periods, then taking a half-hour break to do something completely different—and non-work-related. If you work at home, for instance, you could concentrate on a project for 90 minutes, then take half an hour to do yard work or run errands. You’ll likely get re-inspired during that time and head back to your project refreshed with new ideas.
4. Harness technology. More than seven in 10 creatives in the iStock survey say new tools and technologies have enabled them to be more creative at work. Learning new tech tools and skills uses different parts of your brain, which helps spark inspiration by forcing you to look at familiar problems in new ways. For instance, learning how to make an infographic can get your brain to absorb information visually rather than textually. Try learning to use a new social media site, a new business app or a new device, and see how it shakes up your creativity.
5. Get together. “Co-workers” were named as one of the top five aids to creativity in the iStock survey. A friend of mine recently went from a job where she regularly brainstormed with her team to a job where she's the sole creative on staff. She’s struggling so hard to be creative on her own that she frequently calls me from her cubicle in desperation to get someone else’s input on her ideas. Talking to others naturally forces us to think outside our own perspective, which helps boost creativity. Try brainstorming with others, even about things you don’t normally do in a group.
6. Loosen up. Paradoxically, time constraints can sometimes inspire more creativity, just as the restrictions of haiku inspire poetry. This is especially true if you’re a perfectionist. Knowing you don’t have time to make it “perfect” can free you up to settle for “good enough” … which, in the end, often winds up being better.
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