Fast Company recently looked at the concept of Bill Gates' “Think Weeks”—a period of time where Gates isolates himself to research, think and develop ideas for Microsoft. Fast Company suggests there’s a lesson for all entrepreneurs in this method and that we should try setting aside 5 percent of our time each week to do the same.
The concept of setting aside time for innovation and creativity isn’t limited to Bill Gates, of course. Google is well known for encouraging its employees to spend 20 percent of their work time working on any project that interests them, whether it’s developing new ideas or fixing problems.
What works about both of these approaches is the idea of making a commitment to creativity. By dedicating time to innovation and blocking out time for it on your schedule, you’re declaring its importance to your business.
But what doesn’t necessarily work about these approaches—at least for me—is their isolation. Do you have to head to a cave to think innovatively? Maybe some people do, but personally, I get my best work done when I’m around others, tossing out ideas and “what-ifs.” People (and conversation) stimulate my creativity.
I realize not everyone shares my approach, however. So whether you prefer a tag-team approach to creativity or like to fly solo, here are five ways to spend that 5, 10 or 20 percent of your time:
1. Do the opposite
Remember the episode of “Seinfeld” where George Costanza, tired of being a loser, decided to do the opposite of what his instincts told him? Just like George, doing the opposite can bring out your brilliance. If you spend most of your days in an office, spend your creative time outside. If your days are typically filled with meetings or phone calls, isolation is likely to bring out your creativity—so try spending some time alone. If you usually work at a desk, try sitting on the couch (or floor) during your creative time. You get the idea.
2. Get physical
One of my business partners is a runner and says she gets her best ideas during long runs. Being active stimulates blood flow to the brain and reduces stress—both of which can’t help but make you more creative, right? Whether it’s a brisk walk, some stretching or training for a marathon, introduce some physical activity into your creative thinking time and see where it takes you.
3. Break it up
Long stretches of doing the same thing (writing a proposal, crunching numbers) may be good for concentration, but they can kill creativity. Rejuvenate your mind by throwing different activities into the mix. If you feel yourself getting dull, even a quick run to the post office or office supply store might be enough to get your creative juices flowing.
4. Change is good
Routine kills creativity, so if you find yourself in a rut, get out of it! Make it a point to accept new invitations, meet new people and try new things. Attend a networking event you’ve always been too shy to go to or volunteer to host a panel discussion at your industry trade show. Even driving to the office a different route than you normally take can spark new ideas.
5. Mix and mingle
For me, conversation spurs new ideas, so I love getting together with business partners, customers and colleagues for lunches that turn into brainstorming sessions. Approach these events with an “anything goes” mindset of helping others, and you’ll be amazed at what turns up.
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