Scott H Young

How to Speed Up Highly Creative Tasks


Lightbulb2.png

Writing an essay, designing an interface or coming up with an elegant solution for a software problem isn’t easy to do. Highly creative tasks can sometimes require days of thinking before the lightbulb switches on. Before that inspiration, however, it is easy to procrastinate, distract yourself or stare at your computer screen for hours.

I recently had to solve my own problem for how I handle highly creative work. I love writing articles for this blog, but when you’ve already written close to 600 articles, it can be difficult to come up with ideas that are both original and interesting.

Writing articles is the easy part. But coming up with the ideas was fairly hit or miss. Sometimes I’d find an idea quickly and other times I’d have to think for twenty minutes before I could decide what to write. Seeing how wildly inefficient this was, I put in some effort to change how I write to avoid these creative blocks.

Creation and Destruction Collide

In two-flow theory of creativity, every creative act requires effort in two directions. Creation, or the generation of ideas, needs a completely different mental state than destruction, or the perfection of ideas. As a result, most creative blocks are the result of trying to do both at once and having the two flows cancel each other out.

If you need to write an essay, you can easily stare at your screen for hours at a time, trying to come up with a good thesis statement. Not only does this mental block waste time, but it can be agonizing to go through. Forcing out ideas in this state is like trying to drink concrete through a straw.

The solution is to separate the two flows involved in your creative activity and focus on each of them separately. If you can separate the flows, you can save yourself time. More importantly, you save the frustration of zero output.

Identify Your Two Flows

When a creative block occurs, try to isolate what the two flow activities are. With my writing, generating article headlines would be the creative activity. Perfecting the idea and working out the details, format and focus would be the destructive activity. Trying to do both of these at once was creating the blocks.

If you need to come up with a design, your creative activity could simply be sketching shapes and forms. The destructive activity could be organizing these forms in a way that is elegant and effective. Solving programming problems requires coming up with numerous partial and inefficient solutions (creative) and organizing those idea fragments into a unified whole (destructive).

The first step to overcoming those blocks is to pinpoint where your activities are cancelling each other.

Split the Two Flows

The next step is to stop doing one of the two activities. Usually creative blocks are caused by focusing on perfecting an idea before you’ve generated enough alternatives. However, if you have many ideas, but can’t organize them into something workable, you might want to switch to a destructive direction.

Splitting up my article writing meant that I had a separate phase for idea generation and idea refinement. Each week, I would spend an hour or two creating a long list of potential ideas. Since there was no pressure to act on any of these ideas, I could fill up the list relatively quickly.

Later, as I needed to write my articles for the week, I forced myself to write articles based only on those ideas from my original list. This forced me to organize my thoughts rather than continue the idea-generation stage.

I write articles regularly, so I had the benefit of splitting the two activities into entirely different sections of the week. Your creative tasks might not have this flexibility. Even if you can’t create a time gap between these two stages, you can still separate them. Here’s how:

  1. Plan a fixed-size brainstorming list. Pick a number to form your base of ideas. I usually do 10-30 when brainstorming, but you can do up to 100. Until you fill this list, don’t allow yourself to refine or act on any of the ideas. This activity forces you to focus only on generating ideas instead of perfecting them.
  2. Forced followup on at least one idea. Once you’ve generated an overabundant list, commit that you will start working on at least one of these ideas. Even if the idea won’t be suitable, this step forces you to organize your current ideas. Commit to followup on an idea for a minimum amount of time.
  3. If the ideas won’t work, backup and restart. I’ve found that this stage is relatively rare. If you generate a large list of alternatives and commit long enough to followup on one idea, restarting the process isn’t usually necessary. But even if you do need to restart, separating the activities can be much faster than trying to juggle both tasks at the same time.

What are some creative tasks you regularly need to take on? Are there any ways you could split up your flows to save time?


Print Friendly
StumbleUpon It!

This website is supported, in part, by affiliate arrangements (usually Amazon). Affiliate relationships are always marked by bolded links.


13 Responses to “How to Speed Up Highly Creative Tasks”

  1. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the great post. After 600 articles, you still manage to include insights that both clarify and relate to what I have experienced.

  2. Andy2 says:

    I was a bit critical of your new e-book, but I really like this post. Good way to simplify the process and be more productive. Well done.

  3. jo says:

    Ancient Indian mythology said that the universe is the result of a triumvirate (a creator, a maintainer, and a destroyer). Your post is along the same lines…only more practical :-)

    –j

  4. Scott Young says:

    jo,

    Well I don’t worship Shiva every time I need to perfect an idea, but I suppose there is a similar parallel ;)

    -Scott

  5. […] found this great article from Scott Young about how to handle writer’s block. As a minister, I fight writer’s […]

  6. Rick says:

    Wow, I am new to blogging but am impressed with your insight and sheer volume of work. Very impressive. Although I have many years of experience to draw from I find the toughest thing about blogging is the creative spark for new articles. What is your secret? Please feel free to visit and share any advice or feedback you may have. Continued success in your life’s journey. Rick

  7. David says:

    I read an e-book on brainstorming recently and they had some similar advice to yours. They recommended having a “brainstorming” session in which you are not allowed to judge your ideas (or those of others if you’re in a group) and a “cold-water session” in which ideas can be evaluated. I like the way you put it though.

  8. Scott Young says:

    Rick,

    If you want to know how to write 600 posts, just pick a posting schedule and stick to it. This will mean you have some days where ideas flow easily, and others where you need to put in a lot of sweat to get something good. But I believe, in the end, you’ll get far more done than the person that writes on a whim.

    -Scott

  9. Great post. I often tell my students (I teach philosophy) to start with a question they have about their topic and write about why that question puzzles them rather than starting with the assignment. I think the reason that this works is because they don’t worry so much about the right answer but they just start being creative. Later on, they see how they can get the ideas to work into the assignment, whereas if they just started with the assignment, they would be frustrated and would quit. Sometimes I teach the theory behind it, and when I do, it follows much the same lines as your explanation here.

    Keep up the great work.

  10. […] I can get more high-value stuff done. Scott over at Scott H Young gives some great insights on How to Speed Up Highly Creative Tasks that helped me reevaluate some of my work […]

  11. Copywriter says:

    After the diverging phase there is the converging phase.
    It’s a great idea to not only separate these two phases in a brainstorming, but also when you are working creatively on your own.

    Wim

  12. […] How to speed up highly creative tasks – ScottHYoung.com […]

  13. I found your post looking for help with my own computer issues. Didnt fix my original problem, but still a good read. Sometimes i think it would just be easier to buy a spanking new computer then keep the one i have

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

Leave a Reply