Mind wandering is often associated with creative ideas. Especially the stereotype of the creative person who seems to constantly daydream.
But that ability also allows your brain to make connections about seemingly unrelated things.
Too often when we’re stuck in our work we reach for the phone and let ourselves go down the rabbit hole of Instagram and YouTube.
What if by choosing a different distraction we could actually fire up our creativity instead?
How To Break Free From Distraction
One, or a combination of these five things can actually improve your creative thinking, according to studies. They give your mind a chance to wander freely and tune into your own imagination.
They can also help you develop new habits by consciously choosing distractions that recharge you. Rather than habitually picking up your phone.
Next time you’re stuck on something that requires a fresh perspective or new ideas, think twice before going online.
1. Take a walk
Famous entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg created a routine of walking meetings.
Taking regular breaks from sitting is critical for both creative thinking and your health. Walking and the time right after improves creative inspiration according to a recent Stanford University study.
A short walk, whether it’s outside or even on a treadmill will do wonders to reset and refresh your energy.
“Fresh Air drives fresh thinking,” says Nilofer Merchant in her 2013 Ted Talk, Got a Meeting? Take a walk. Walking and talking things through with someone else, can lead to an entirely different set of ideas.
2. Talk it Through with Someone
Brainstorming and hear other points of view, is invaluable in creative work. If you usually work alone that’s something you probably don’t get enough of. It takes real effort to find people to reach out to and bounce ideas off of.
Co-working spaces often create that environment of collaboration. It’s an rich opportunity to meet people and get different perspectives about your work. Try to find a few different people you can call up and say, “I’m stuck, can we talk this through?”
Bonus points if you can go for a walk with them. It’s a winning combination for your health and your creative inspiration.
3. Doodle with your opposite hand
This can be a quick break to let your mind wander freely enough to let go of the problem at hand and give you some mental space.
Each morning before I sit down to write, I close my eyes and doodle random lines and shapes with my other hand.
There are a few benefits I’ve found:
It silences my inner critic
Confuses my brain
Helps get me into a more meditative and relaxed state
Experts say that we can stimulate our right brain by working with the wrong hand. “Our right hemisphere is about this present moment, right here, right now. It thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically, through the movement of our body,” says. Jill Bolte Taylor PhD, and neuroanatomist in her 2014 Ted Talk A Stroke of Insight
Next time you’re stuck, try grabbing a sheet of paper and making easy sketches with your opposite hand when the work isn’t flowing.
4. Make Sketch-notes
Sketch-noting is a term coined by designer Mike Rohde. It’s a way of capturing key ideas by using a visual vocabulary. Drawing simple objects and icons with written note-taking. One of Mike’s mantras is, “It’s about ideas, not art.”
The process combines words with visual elements like, lettering, arrows, stick figures and icons to make a map of your ideas, your travels or even client notes.
Mike’s written two books and workbooks about the method. And the Sketchnote Army is an entire community you can tap into for inspiration.
Designer Eva-Lotta Lamm walks through the basic Choreography of Sketching in this quick Medium article. Start slowly by adding icons and lettering to your usual text notes.
A few sketch-note ideas are:
What’s on your desk
Notes from a client meeting
a great meal using photos on your phone
Brainstorm your next vacation
This can be a easy and fun diversion that helps you map out key concepts in different ways. Use whatever is around you as a starting point.
5. Get a Change of Scenery
This one is critical for me. When I need to switch up tasks to start something new I choose different places as a signal to myself that I’m focusing on something different.
There’s a favorite cafe I go to and order an oat milk chai late (So Bay Area) when I’m taking on online class or am learning a new skill.
If I have to write something and it’s hard to get started, I book a conference room at my co-working space. To clear my head, I write all the tasks that are distracting me on a white board when I settle into the room.
Just booking that room means I’m sequestering myself away.
When I need to write something fairly routine I usually move from my office to the dining room table. Or change desks in the co-working space I work from.
These are simple ways to get a change of scenery. Come up with your own. Eventually they will become unconscious signals that help you shift gears.
How about a little creative inspiration?
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