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Finding Time for Good Ideas

Have you ever waited for inspiration at your desk, only to suddenly come up with a solution in a completely unrelated environment? Most people find that their best ideas occur to them outside of conventional work settings, for example while commuting or during a conversation. Ideas that compel us to try new approaches are induced by thinking freely about ourselves and the world around us. As such, they are essential for personal and professional growth and success, and can help set our projects and businesses apart. Much has been written about creativity lately, often with the (unrealistic) assumption that innovation can be generated in low-diversity, conventional corporate working environments.

Ideas that compel us to try new approaches are induced by thinking freely about ourselves and the world around us

Because creative ideas are so important, it is not sufficient to wait for the occasional random flash of insight. Instead, we need regular time and space in our daily routine to think creatively and to somehow capture the results for further use. Jeremiah Dillon recently shared an email he wrote at Google about the importance of scheduling thinking time, noting that [makers] need "to make, to create, to build. But, before that, they need to think."

For those of us with a full schedule and a long to-do list, blocking out half days for thinking may not be practicable, but here are some smaller ways to make creative thinking a greater priority:

1. Schedule time for free thinking

"Giving yourself time for unconscious thought is a key component of making effective decisions when there is a large amount of data or a complex problem to solve," wrote Scott Eblin earlier this year.

If you know that a certain place (a park) or routine (walking the dog) is a good source of new ideas, make it a point to keep the associated time free of distractions so you can let your mind wander. However, free thinking time should not be reserved for breaks. Having just 10 or 15 minutes of ideatime, during which you allow yourself to jot down thoughts without editing, can do a lot for subsequent tasks. Morning hours tend to be more productive for creative tasks, which means that strategic thinking intervals should be scheduled earlier in the day.

2. Solve problems during exercise

Studies have shown that exercise is a particularly effective way to come up with new ideas. Mentally defining a general problem ("need topic for presentation") before setting out, and returning to the same idea immediately after exercising can help highlight different angles and perspectives. Some people even write down a specific problem before exercising. Because they are easily lost and forgotten in busy schedules, your good ideas should be recorded as quickly as possible.

3. Create an idea pipeline

If you find it hard to remember the sudden inspirations that occurred to you in odd places, (or you have trouble deciphering those crumpled notes in your pocket) consider creating  a formal idea repository to capture your insights in an easily accessible format. For example, your idea collection can be kept as a computer document, as a checklist in Wunderlist, or as a paper-and-pencil list. Having a pipeline of past ideas, even if they seemed odd at the time, can save much wasted time when you need to quickly create new content.

4. Establish a "creative routine"

Making creativity a consistent habit may sound paradoxical at first, but astudy published in 2015 found that "that people consistently underestimate how many creative ideas they can come up with if they continue to work on a problem." As it turns, out, the process of generating new ideas can be practiced and built up gradually, comparable to other habits. To successfully "grow" a new habit, start small and set up a positive environment to practice (for example, make a cup of tea and work on your idea pipeline for 5 minutes after lunch).

You probably did not start your own business because you thoroughly enjoyed conventional wisdom or relished the idea of being stuck in a mid-level career position. In many ways, giving your own ideas the time and space they deserve is one of the best professional investments you can make.

What are your best tips for staying creative?
I look forward to hear from you!

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