Why are some people incredibly creative and productive while others always say, “they’ll get to it tomorrow” (which, by the way, never comes)? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself, researching, and writing about for the last six months. The answer, I believe, comes down to the difference between people who are willing to create structure behind their creativity versus the vast majority who do not. And this year, you can get a leg up with three creative resolutions.
Now, I’m not blind to the irony here – creating structure behind something that’s supposed to be free flowing, unorganized, and liberating. But without organization, we fall into the lazy routine of working whenever we feel like it, which is never as frequent as it should be.
Being more creative starts with creating systems to ensure you’ll do the hard work that’s necessary to succeed.
With 2016 beginning in just one week, we’re all thinking about our creative resolutions and goals (even if you’re just thinking that New Year’s goals and resolutions are dumb). While many people will say they want to be more creative and finally start that passion project, many won’t. Many will find themselves in the same place next December making the same goal, hoping this time, the gods of creativity will smile down upon them.
The gods of creativity won’t smile down upon you by random chance though. They’ll help those who help themselves. So this year, don’t make a big bear of a resolution about writing a book, starting a blog, or recording a podcast (unless, of course, you really want to). All I’m asking is that you try to make a resolution to incorporate three creative practices into your daily life, the same exercises that I’ve seen superpower my productivity and creativity in the last few months. And the best part is, together, they take no more than 10 minutes a day.
So let’s dive in.
THE 10 IDEAS EXERCISE
By far, this has been my biggest productivity booster of 2016. It’s helped me come up with ideas for everything from blog posts to book chapters to improv exercises. Created by James Altucher, it’s essentially a more focused version of the 7 Things improv warm up (I wrote about them both here).
Here’s how it works:
Start by coming up with a topic – it could be something big like “businesses I could create” or something small like “places to visit on vacation.” Then, write down 10 things that fit into the category. Like the 7 Things improv warm up, the first few ideas should come easily. But as it starts getting harder and you run out of steam, push through. Keep listing ideas, no matter how silly they seem, until you reach 10. Odds are, you’ll accidentally stumble upon something brilliant.
You can do this exercise whenever you’re stuck on a specific problem, but James (and I) recommend doing this every day. It helps keep your idea muscle strong, and it’s a great morning ritual to get into a creative headspace.
THE COMMONPLACE BOOK
If you want to be more creative, you have to start by thinking critically about your inspirational inputs. Everyone knows the saying, “garbage in, garbage out,” so you want to be purposeful about the type of stuff you’re reading (or listening to, or looking at, etc).
It all starts by creating a commonplace book.
Here’s how it works:
First, get a folder, folio or some sort of organizer and a pack of notecards. Then, when you read your next book (or listen to a podcast or whatever) pay attention to the most interesting, important, or quotable passages. When you’re through the whole thing, write each one down on a notecard along with the author and a topic (eg productivity, creativity, painting, etc) and stash them in that section of your folio.
I first learned about this concept from Ryan Holiday, but it took me a whole year to finally implement it. I only wish I had tried it sooner. Now, I have a repository of organized quotes and lessons to refer to whenever I’m writing. Plus, it drives me towards more challenging and intellectually stimulating reads.
THE SPARK FILE
Steven Johnson’s How We Got To Now was one of my favorite reads from the past year. And, as it turns out, he’s a pretty avid blogger with some neat ideas around creativity. A newer one I’m trying out is his “Spark File.”
Here’s how it works:
Create a word doc (or something comparable) and save it as your Spark File. Whenever you have a cool idea, write it down in the file below your last entry. Over time, you’ll build up a big list of hunches, thoughts, concepts, people to meet, etc. Every four months, start at the top, and go back through all of your ideas. Johnson says you’ll see connections and come up with new ideas you didn’t think up before. It’s how he comes up with topics for his books, blogs, and more.
These are three habits I practice every day to be more creative, productive, and disciplined. I know they can help you too (and with only a small bit of effort on your part). So if you want to make a creative resolution for 2016 (or just want to be more creative in general), start by investing in structure and discipline around your creativity. Success comes to those who are prepared.