4 Tools to Help Develop Your Imagination for More Inspiration and Better Workdays
In today’s busy world, personal organization is a hot topic. There are products, apps, websites, and planners everywhere that promise to help you get more done in less time. We are juggling work, home lives, hobbies, and side jobs – along with to-do lists that never seem to get any shorter.
When we are this busy, we often focus on accomplishing things we “should be doing” each day, but don’t develop methods to store our best creative ideas. We take the time to document our appointments and deadlines, but don’t have a way to gather the little sparks that come to us while we’re in the shower, or commuting to the office. When you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s hard enough to work through your tactical to-do list, much less think outside of the box.
However, even with these distractions, there are a few different methods we can use to capture our thoughts when inspiration hits, and store them so that we have a vision started when we are ready to create. Each of these suggestions is adaptable for your personality and passions, and is simple to set up.
“Saving the String” – Create Ways to Stockpile Your Creative Concepts
Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin hosts a weekly podcast with her sister Elizabeth. Both women work in creative fields, and in a recent episode they discussed the concept of “saving string.” Saving string is a term that was developed by journalists, and refers to creating a way to hang on to your ideas until you are ready to use them.
One example of this concept was developed by renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp (who shot to international fame after introducing superstar ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov to modern dance audiences in Push Comes to Shove). And whenever Twyla begins working on a new dance, she takes a new box and labels it for the project. When she has materials or ideas related to the development of the dance, she stores them in the box. Over time, the box develops into a resource she’s created, full of inspiration for the creative effort; it becomes a physical representation of her vision for the project.
This concept could also be used for hobbies like cooking. You may come across recipe ideas in a magazine, or a beautiful table setting at a friend’s home. So take pictures, clippings, and these bits of ideas that inspire you, and put them into a notebook organized by topic such as holidays or appetizers. Then, when you have the time to plan your next meal, you have inspiration in one place to pull from.
Leaders can also use this idea for annual performance appraisals: create a simple document for each of your employees, and when a project is completed, briefly document your thoughts on each employee’s contributions. If you take a few minutes throughout the year to add to this file, you’ll have timely information to pull from to write the review, instead of having to remember an entire year’s worth of work at one time.
Lesson: Taking just a few minutes to store bits of information in an organized manner can go a long way toward starting a project.
Utilizing Context: Organize Based on Category + Environment
Productivity expert David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, has several actionable tips for organizing your thoughts. One of his central assertions is that we do our best work when we develop a system for organizing our ideas and to-dos on paper, rather than wasting valuable mental energy by attempting to keep this information only in our heads. He notes that one large to-do list can be overwhelming, and that it’s helpful to categorize to-dos based on context. This means that you maintain lists based on the tools you need to complete the task.
For example, it can be helpful to maintain separate lists of to-dos, such as phone calls to return, e-mails to write, errands to run, and meetings to schedule. This helps you to focus your energy on completing the tasks that you are able to accomplish in your environment, and not to get bogged down in a long list of items that you can’t make traction on in the present moment. So when you have a few minutes between meetings, you can write e-mails and schedule a quick meeting, without wasting mental energy on errands than can be run at a later time.
Lesson: By sorting your to-do lists by context, you’ll free up your brain for more creative pursuits. You’ll create peace of mind for yourself, because your thoughts will be organized, and you’ll have timely reminders set up for yourself. Your best thoughts and inspiration come when you are calm and relaxed, not trying to juggle multiple projects.
Developing Visual Inspiration, and Using Pinterest for Business
Over 70 million people have a Pinterest account, and utilize the website and/or application to save links and images to their accounts. There are many benefits to using Pinterest to electronically store your ideas, and this concept can go much further than just pretty pictures.
Pinterest is an excellent tool for resources on resume building, and has tons of interview tips. If you are targeting a particular company in a job search, there are links to industry articles and in-depth information on the company that you can store and reference. Storing career-building tips can keep you informed in your field: if you know you will be traveling to a work conference, you can search for presenters and materials to prepare yourself ahead of time, to ensure you get the most out of the event.
Another benefit of Pinterest is that if you save all of your ideas related to one topic on a single board, you will often see consistencies emerge that you may not have noticed before. For example, if you spend a few months pinning ideas for a kitchen remodel, you may notice that you repeatedly save pictures with subway tile or marble countertops. When the time comes to begin your remodel project, you’ll have a much better idea of what your style is.
You can also take a few minutes to create a board to store motivational pictures, quotes, or articles, to give you an extra push toward accomplishing your goals. Saving for your dream home? Create a board that contains pictures of the sort of home you’re aiming for. Training for a marathon? Pin motivation quotes on running, or articles about pushing through obstacles to meet your targets.
Lesson: When you need an extra burst of motivation, take a few minutes to scan your board. Spending a little time dreaming about your specific goals can go a long way toward helping you to accomplish your dreams.
Eliminate Distractions, and Protect Your Creative Flow
While it’s important to develop a system to store your creative thoughts, it’s equally important to know how to create an environment where you can focus while working on creative efforts. When you are forcing your brain to do tasks that require energy beyond the every day, your mind can often wander. This is when you remember all the things you’ve forgotten to do, or it suddenly becomes imperative that you clean off your desk rather than work on your new ideas!
So to protect your creative time, block your calendar and minimize distractions. If possible, create an atmosphere that you enjoy, by bringing in a cup of coffee or playing calming music.
Lesson: Always have a notebook and a pen by your side, so that when you do have those mental interruptions, simply make a note so you won’t forget, and return to working on your project.
Once you invest a little time into developing a process for capturing creativity, and for protecting the time you have to pursue your inspiration, it will become second nature. By implementing some (or all) of these suggestions, you’ll be better able to manage your day, and to take advantage of inspiration when it strikes.16