I just returned home to Tokyo from Sendai, where I was giving a talk.
I met a guy over beers (yes, face to face, not in Zoom!), working on something he had dubbed “creativity support environments”.
My god, how cool!
I’ve never thought about supporting creativity from such a zoomed-out perspective.
Usually we get stuck thinking about how to use individual tools: ChatGPT, other AI-inspired content creators, or for example frameworks for writing (hello P.A.S.T.O.R.) or similar to get our ideas off the ground.
But what about the entire environment?
That’s such a neat way to think about it: intentionally working on your entire environment to support creative thinking!
So I did some introspection…and googling… and ok ok one chat with ChatGPT too (which turned out to be useless).
Here’s how you can start to optimize creativity by modifying the entire environment you spend your productive hours in.
Building a Creativity Support Environment
In no particular order, the following actions are all helpful in making the good ideas flow!
Practice Great Inbox Hygiene
This one is from my own playbook, and is the obvious one for the standard office worker.
Chances are, over time you have subscribed to a hundred different newsletters and bought three dozen different services.
And they all keep sending you random stuff, non-stop. Perhaps not daily, but it all adds up..
Now, the traditional understanding of inbox hygiene often only deals with deleting mails so they don’t keep bugging you.
But there’s a simple trick here that will help particularly with creativity.
Create a separate folder for “ideas” and set up rules that direct all the rare _GOOD_ newsletters to that folder, skipping the inbox. This way, whenever you feel like you’re short on ideas and could use some push, you have a vault of good stuff ready there waiting for you. And your inbox stays clean, just as intended.
You do this because creativity is much about adapting and adding. This timeless quote from Bruce Lee is a nice way to think about how to use content to fuel creativity:
Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.Bruce Lee
But this won’t work unless you do some testing.
Go and find relevant newsletters and subscribe to them. Then read and unsubscribe ruthlessly, keeping only the good ones that, with your new rule.
Perfect Your Note-Taking Flow
I bet you have experienced this a billion times.
You see something super interesting or relevant, out there when you’re just living your life. You get an idea of where or how that would apply in your projects.
And by the time you’re home, you forgot all about it already.
Here’s how I make sure those ideas are kept somewhere for future inspiration:
- I use Todoist’s inbox for capturing these fleeting ideas
- I have a Zapier integration that pulls all the new items to a Notion database
- The same Notion database contains different categories (funding, science, social media content, etc) so I can sort them out for future action
- I also have a “backlog” for stuff that felt good at the time of capturing it, but turned out to be a fluke. That’s what dopamine does to us. Some ideas are not good, they just feel good.
But anything works!
Just make sure you have at least some system for taking notes!
Block Empty Time
You cannot survive in this world with a constantly full calendar.
You can be busy and work hard even with a calendar that’s empty. I don’t know where the absurd idea even came from that in order to be working hard your calendar has to be full. It’s insane.
You work better and get more done with a calendar that has plenty of slots for deep work, just for yourself.
And those slots are the ones that help you to connect dots between different domains: Be creative!
Non-Sleep Deep Rest
I’m borrowing this term from Andrew Huberman.
Just do nothing, especially after the focused work bouts.
But do nothing everyday, at least once.
Just 20 minutes chilling helps you recharge, boosts your learning, and is critical for improving the quality of your ideas.
But you have to do it without the shiny rectangle!
Scrolling TikTok is not doing nothing. It’s frying your brains.
So.. intentionally do a bit less every now and then to build stronger ideas.
Spend a Full Afternoon Fixing Your Workstation
A cluttered desk, computer somewhere in the corner, default background picture, desktop full of icons and files, nothing inspirational either in the physical surroundings or even in the digital workspace.
If this is you, you’re lucky!
Because here’s an easy win for you.
Spend 2-3 hours to fix all that.
Clean up the desk. Find a background picture that you just LOVE and that energizes you. And for the love of God, find some physical artefacts that stimulate your thinking! This could be books, gizmos, anything small and stylish that you like to tinker with while thinking.
Again, so basic, so often ignored.
These five tips will get you nicely started fostering your creative juices.
See you next week again!