Wisdom//

11 Tried and Tested Ways to Unlock Your Creative Potential at Work

You’ll find your next “a-ha” moment where you least expect it.

Magnetic Mcc / Shutterstock
Magnetic Mcc / Shutterstock

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “creative,” chances are your job still calls for some form of creative thinking. Creativity is an invaluable part of our work, and when deliverables and due dates are at stake, the charge to be creative can go from fun in theory to stressful in practice.

Studies show that creativity is highly individual, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for getting those elusive ideas to materialize in time for your presentation, sometimes all it takes is an unexpected detour to reframe our perspective, recharge our creative energy, and help us see what we hadn’t noticed before.

We asked the Thrive Global Community to share their most surprising strategies for unblocking their creative juices. Give these a try next time you find yourself stuck in a slump or feeling burned out.

Kondo your workspace to clear your mind

“I was surprised to discover that a fairly boring activity — cleaning — actually sparks my creativity. When I need a new creative idea, I sometimes take a break to clean clutter away from my workspace. By clearing out my physical space I end up clearing my mental space, as well. That makes more room for creative ideas to come to mind.”

—Whitney Hopler, communications director, Fairfax, VA

Listen for inspiration

“Music never fails to spark my creativity. Whenever I’m feeling unproductive and need a boost, I turn on a playlist I made with songs that specifically amp me up. I find inspiration in other artists’ versions of inspiration. How amazing is it that we have all of these beautiful songs that were once just lyrics on a page and notes that were being hummed in someone’s head. Someone took their art and turned it into music. It’s helpful to remember that when I’m in the process of creating.”

—Heather Reinhardt, author and founder, Los Angeles, CA

Share your thoughts with a trusted sounding board

“If I’m ever stuck on a topic, I find it’s best to bounce ideas around with others. Sometimes we can get a little protective of our own work or thoughts — something that eventually causes us to shut down our own imagination. But getting other people involved broadens your perspective and can shine a light on your own creativity!”

—Wendy Young, copywriter, Manchester, U.K.

Take a break to do something you enjoy

“I have experienced writer’s block on a few occasions, where my creative juices just were not flowing. I find that this happens when I am experiencing high amounts of stress in my life, whether it’s in my career or personal life. One thing that continues to be my go-to for sparking my creativity is taking time to do an activity that I love. I know it seems counterintuitive — we normally don’t want to take time away from our important task or project — but this works for me every single time. When I take some time, maybe an hour or an afternoon, to reconnect with doing something I love, that brings me joy it recharges my energy in a way that allows me to return to my project with fresh ideas and a renewed sense of confidence.”

—Nicole Michalski, life strategist, speaker, and author, Alberta, Canada

Head outside to get out of a rut

“As a marketer, my job requires creativity on demand. I spark my creativity and problem-solving skills by making time to take on a challenging, steep hike. The strategy and focus hiking and rock scrambling requires takes up 100 percent of my headspace, allowing me to let go of everything else. Once finished, I feel a sense of accomplishment (after being in a rut at work), refreshed and prepared to approach a situation with a new perspective. Researchers at Stanford University agree — being outdoors calms anxiety, reduces rumination, and can lead to a lower risk of depression.”

—Carolyn Montrose, brand strategist, Haworth, NJ

Think: The sky’s the limit

“One of the most powerful (and easiest) ways to get a quick jolt of creative inspiration that I use quite often is to take a deep breath as I close my eyes, and envision a bright blue, beautiful sky.

I take a moment to allow its breathtaking beauty to fill me with awe, then I ask myself an inspiring question like, ‘Ozioma, what wants — or needs — to be created right now?’ Usually an idea will surface, and even if it doesn’t, I always feel more inspired afterward. It’s amazing to see what emerges when we give ourselves blue sky possibilities.”

—Ozioma Egwuonwu, transformational thought leader, Lisbon, Portugal

Take the scenic route

“Over the years I have discovered that I have three or four ways to get myself kick-started which work for all situations, business or creative:

  • Go for a long drive alone (I find movement and the enclosed space freeing allowing my mind to move along with the car).
  • Sit quietly in a garden or other natural space.
  • Listen in to a conversation where a word or a sentence will strike a chord.
  • Have a conversation that activates my own thought process.

At other times, no matter how stuck I feel, I open the laptop and write a few words or a sentence and find even if I eventually discard them or stew for a while that the process and act of starting to write gets me going in the right direction for a start.”

—Victoria Sarne, entrepreneur, writer, biographer, and poet, Nassau, Bahamas

Get out of your head and into your body

“What sparks my creativity is doing some exercise — whether that’d be going for a long walk, or being on the treadmill or elliptical machine, or doing weights or dancing. The repetitive movements involved in an exercise activity puts me ‘in the zone’ and focuses my mind so that, after a workout and feeling refreshed and full of endorphins, my brain gets a boost of creativity. I’ve found solutions to problems whilst on the treadmill, have come up with ideas on how to phrase a particular piece of writing whilst doing weights, and saw situations in a new light whilst going for a walk.”

—Madylene Planer, knowledge management, Sydney, Australia

Surround yourself with thinkers and dreamers

“My creative inspirations come from interacting with other people — people who think, dream, and do big things. I’m very busy as an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and service leader, which can make me prone to burnout… feeling dull. During these times I seek out those who challenge and encourage me. And my creative spirit is restored.”

—John Harrell, author, speaker, and entrepreneur, Austin, TX

Follow your curiosity

“Creativity and curiosity are interlinked. I believe an inherently questioning mind that asks ‘why’ even in seemingly routine activities and tasks can lead to unbelievable creative insights. Additionally I think adversity is a good teacher; you learn to find creative solutions when your back is against the wall.”

—Akshaara Lalwani, founder and CEO, India

Remember that inspiration can come from many sources

“I often listen to someone who is inspiring through podcasts. Two of my favorites are ‘The Ziglar Show’ and ‘Rise with Rock.’ I often start with a clean piece of paper; it lets me know the possibilities are endless. I get out in nature, take a walk, or get in a good workout. It can clear your mind and get those endorphins charged up. I listen to my favorite music; it can instantly make you happy. Breathe. Perfection is overrated. Creativity has many different styles. Go with your gut and take some risks. Lastly, I love looking up motivational quotes. Quotes have a way of transforming your thoughts in a positive way.

“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.”

Bruce Garrabrandt

—Tiffany Hoxie, Writer, New York, NY

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