By Gajan Tharmabalan
When I first set out on creating the Controlled Chaos series, the goal was simple: share what I've learned about maximizing the time on hand so I can get back to doing what I love. And most of what I love involves being creative. So naturally, the last in the series of four is all about managing and fostering creativity. No one can tell you *how* to be creative, and I don't plan to. All I can say is that there are many things you can do to promote a creative state of mind. Just as a great home needs a solid foundation to stand on, creativity flourishes when provided with the right environment to grow in. In this post, I've included seven of my go-to ways to help manage and foster creativity. While there are limitless ways, I've narrowed the list to the ones that I believe are most valuable and provide the most dramatic effects.
The real secret: Allow your mind to relax.
Rest is something we don't really understand. More often than not, people often do things that they think is relaxing to their body, where in fact, it just creates more stress. When you're on the pursuit to create and be creative, one of the most important things to remember is to rest and rest well. Many people know about my rigorous work schedule. I'm constantly tweaking and maximizing my to-do list in Omnifocus. What most people don't know is that I am also putting in time to relax. Whether it's meditation, exercise, or even a deep-tissue massage, there are many varying ways to allow your mind to wind down. And that's the real secret: allow your mind to relax. When you find a way to get your conscious brain to slow down and just be receptive, it allows for a truly clearer thought process. Ultimately, if you wish to be creative, and continuously being creative, find ways to rest and rest well.
Collaborate with other creative people and let thought processes flourish. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a clear agenda to meet with people. Try to surround yourself with other creative minds and create a dialogue. Whether it's current events, upcoming trends, or something else entirely, just create a dialogue. This is a great way to express your thoughts vocally, but more importantly, will allow you to listen to ideologies that may be different than yours. Needless to say, avoid negative people that may create friction for this group.
Write and sketch as much as you can. Carry around a notebook wherever you go and make a habit of writing or sketching any inspiration you come across. Yes, with the advent of creative technology, there are apps and devices that can make this process sound dated. However, nothing beats a pen and paper. I believe when take the time to write, and put pen to paper, ideas flourish and the retention of that information is strengthened. Personally, I love having the Evernote Moleskine as the canvas to my Pilot Fineliner.
Taking Risks can mean different things to different people, but let me state the obvious and mention that it doesn't have involve any illegal activity. There, disclaimer achieved. When it comes to really being creative, as cliché as it sounds, you have to take risks. Whether it's the mediums you use, the subjects you explore, or how you share your work, constantly trying to push yourself with every project shouldn't feel comfortable. Just about every creative goes through the cycle of feeling good about their work, feeling uneasy, feeling like shit, feeling contempt, and then maybe, with enough persistence, feeling good again. This cycle can become troublesome when we try to force creativity and replicate something that worked for us before. Push yourselves! Look for new areas to explore. It's not about trying to reinvent ourselves, but to constantly iterate on what we've done.
Music, movies, and books provide an excellent source of inspiration to get your creative juices going, I don't have to drive that fact home. What I will assert that if you become more open to different genres and forms of media, it can shed new perspectives on ideas you might be tackling. Don't read books? Then find a book to read. Only listen to hip-hop? Give the The Rolling Stones a try. Only watch blockbuster films? Seriously... Have you heard of Fight Club? When we ingest multiple, varying forms of creativity, it's no surprise that we ourselves can feel inspired thereafter. Try to make a habit of exploring media that you haven't considered before. I look at this as right-brain exercise; a fresh way to flex that creative muscle. Now, speaking of exercise...
Working out and meditation were the two things a monk told me would solve all my problems. And to this day, he hasn't been wrong. Look, I know it's not easy to find time to work out, let alone find the calmness to meditate, but if it were easy than our entire race would be superhuman. I won't go into how meditation and exercise provide great physical and mental benefits, because that fact is readily accessible online. What I will say is that challenging yourself to become more active, or daring yourself to be alone with your mind, can allow you to elevate your creative state. With practice, you become more perceptive and in tune with what's happening around you. It's as if you are constantly sharpening the blade. A dull knife will cut, but a sharpened knife will slice. Being more conscientious about our physical and mental health can be, arguably, the most difficult way to foster creativity. However, there is no denying that this is easily the most rewarding since it benefits you in more ways than one.
Coffee is a polarizing topic. I love coffee, but I don't drink it everyday. At the time of writing this, I haven't had a caffeinated beverage in a few days. So why the hell would I include in the list? I look at coffee as a drug, not a beverage. This mentality allows me to not over-indulge and use caffeine as a tool. First and foremost, seek out good coffee. You don't have to make it yourself, but just avoid chain stores if you can. I'm looking at you Tim Hortons, you guys pack way too much caffeine than necessary. I won't turn this into a hipster-rant against the coffee industry, but there's plenty of truth in seeking a better blend. Back to my original point, I use coffee as a tool. It provides that little spark you need to get in the zone, so to speak. Especially when you find your preferred drink, it can be that 'secret potion' that uncorks that creative mind of yours. I'm a big proponent of using this concoction sparingly. Not only does it minimize any negative side-effects, it helps to stave that addictive craving that caffeine may induce. Again, coffee can be an extremely potent beverage to get you going, just try not to get hooked.
BONUS TIP: Find Your Killer App
I have boldly asserted that nothing beats pen and paper above, but in the age of iPads, there's a plethora of apps that can really allow you to get ideas out of your head with minimal friction. One of my favorites is Paper. Founded by a group of ex-Microsoft employees, Paper uses a unique drawing engine that delivers a really unique digital experience. The app carries an incredibly simple and minimalistic design that emulates skeuomorphic design appropriately. While it's missing, what I would deem, necessary features such as cloud-sync and templates, the app covers the spread by being very snappy and pleasant to use. When you find apps that don't require months of training to learn (a la Sketchbook Pro) and just get you to put ideas down, then you know you've found something truly worthwhile. Be sure to check out Paper in the iTunes App Store.