Posted by: April Goldstein | Posted on: March 11th, 2013 | 1 Comments
Idea generation seems like such an easy, natural thing to do. I’m thinking new thoughts all the time! Most of the time, too many of them! But we’ve all had that moment that required us to come up with a good idea – on someone else’s timeline – and the whole operation just screeched to a halt. I struggled with this today and thought I’d share some tactics.
Three things I did this afternoon to take my brain from zero to full in under ten minutes:
1. Closed my email
I have somehow trapped myself into believing that if I do not know about each email that hits my inbox IMMEDIATELY, very bad things will happen. I’ve willingly installed no less than four or five different kinds of alerts/chimes that ensure I never go more than a few minutes without that warm fuzzy feeling that someone (Delta Airlines, LinkedIn, my wedding planner) is thinking about me and has important information to transmit. X’ing out that Gmail tab was a bit soul-crushing at first, but then something miraculous happened: nothing. Nothing happened. I just sat here at my desk and felt free to focus on the task at hand, knowing that my email would still be there when I was finished.
It turns out that just saying no to the constant distraction of email is incredibly liberating, and the concept of scheduling specific times to check email is advanced by many productivity experts. “But what if I miss an important client email!” you exclaim. There is obviously an app for that. If you have an iPhone, you have the ability to set particular contacts as VIP and be notified only when you receive a call or an email from someone on that list. AwayFind is a subscription service that supports the same idea, but also provides additional functionality and calendar integration.
2. Got up from my chair and ate a clementine
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently sitting is the new smoking. Although I have to take that assessment with a grain of salt and an understanding of what is required of a headline to get pageviews these days (see: “Your iPhone or Your Toilet: Which Would You Pick?“), no one is arguing that sitting in a desk chair all day every day is good for you or conducive to idea generation. True, there are lots of things to do on the internet and some of those things might spark something in your mind. But when the internet’s not doing it for you, sometimes it’s good to stand up and wander around for a bit. Look out the window, see if there’s anything new in the pantry, water a plant. Bonus points if you make it all the way outside and breathe fresh air. By the time you come back to your desk, if your head isn’t clearer maybe you’re still trying too hard. Which brings me to the last thing I did:
3. Stopped trying so hard
Forcing things typically doesn’t yield the best ideas. In her book, “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes”, author Maria Konnikova writes, “Psychologist Yaacov Trope argues that psychological distance may be one of the single most important steps you can take to improve thinking and decision-making. It can come in many forms: temporal, or distance in time (both future and past); spatial, or distance in space (how physically close or far you are from something); social, or distance between people (how someone else sees it); and hypothetical, or distance from reality (how things might have happened). But whatever the form, all of these distances have something in common: they all require you to transcend the immediate moment in your mind. They all require you to take a step back.” (To read more about how to think like Sherlock Holmes, here is a great writeup on Brain Pickings.)
When and where do you have your best ideas?