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There’s a simple truth when it comes to doing good, creative work: you can’t force inspiration.
Despite this, there’s a tendency amongst productive people to muscle through problems in an attempt to find a creative solution. They keep their heads down, grind harder, and put in hours. But ultimately, that method doesn’t lead to fresh ideas. It leads to frustration, and it’s a waste of time.
Instead, set yourself up to find inspiration in your daily routine.
As a product designer and business owner, I’m constantly faced with new problems that demand creative thinking. Early in my career, I found myself hitting my head against the wall, waiting for inspiration to strike. But, through trial and error, I built a system that keeps me creative, inspired, and overflowing with new ideas.
I noticed a serious uptick in my personal creativity when I pushed myself out of my professional comfort zone.
As a designer, you need to be constantly challenged with new visual approaches. I realized this amidst my frustrations early in my career. I started visiting an art gallery every week. It didn’t matter what the show was—classical, modern, experimental—all that mattered was experiencing something fresh and letting it sink into my subconscious.
Reading is another option. Just because school is out doesn’t mean you get time off. Read biographies of painters, generals, philosophers—learn the work and the lifestyle of great people, then take their lessons and apply it to your own life.
You never know where inspiration will come from next, so it’s vital to keep exploring.
I used to hate even the idea of taking a break. Hard work got me where I am, and to pause or relax felt like an excuse to stop working hard. What I didn’t realize was that uninterrupted work will burn you out.
And you can’t be creative if you’re burnt out.
We all know the feeling: you keep staring at the page, trying to work harder and harder so you can find the perfect solution. If you could give it 10% more effort, or spend just five more minutes on the problem, you’d find a new angle and solve the issue. But at a certain point, your brain just isn’t working as it should.
Sometimes you need to step back. Go on a quick run to the coffee shop, spend an afternoon with the kids, have fun at a barbecue, set out on an all-day hike—do what you need to recharge and start thinking fresh again.
Even a single day away will give your brain the room it needs to come up with fresh ideas.
Just as a break will help your brain reset, a walk helps your body with the creative process. Most of us spend our lives trapped behind a desk. A 15-minute walk gets the blood moving, which sends oxygen to the brain, which clears your mind.
Clear thinking leads to new ideas.
Now, it’s easy to think that a frantic gym session will lead to more movement, which means more oxygen. Certainly, there are gym fanatics that this works for. But the gym is a contained, uninspiring and, frankly, sweaty place, while a good walk inspired everyone from Steve Jobs to Nietzsche.
That’s because a walk, ultimately, is a reflective and artful experience.
It’s similar to a gallery: a walk is an experience loaded with new sights and sounds. It provides time and space to reflect, allowing your brain to run free and give rein to a million new ideas. That’s why these walks are even more valuable if you carry pen and paper.
You never know when an idea will come in handy. Something that seems stupid or strange today could be invaluable a week from now, or even a year out. You can never know what will be useful, so why not write it down?
And sure, most of what you write down will probably never be used. But great ideas often come from reworking bad ideas. Revision is a form of inspiration itself.
Write down an initial idea and return to it later to see if you can appreciate it from an exciting new angle.
All of these tasks sound deceptively simple, but when it comes to inspiration, it’s often the simplest things that are the most useful. And not only will these tips help foster creativity, problem-solving, and new forms of analysis, but they’ll also help you lead a healthier, more intellectual life.
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