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Staying Creative When You Are Alone

Let’s face it, most of us aren’t used to staying home or working from home for extended periods of time. Recently, many have been directed to shelter in place or self-quarantine and others were asked to work from home to help with social distancing efforts. While this unique time is an adjustment for everyone, it can be especially difficult when your work demands your creativity. 

What does “creativity” look like in a business setting?

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) makes a good point, saying that “most occupations involve some form of creativity.” And it may look very different for each position. The BLS uses the example of retail workers. Though the majority of that position may be straightening a store, organizing products or working a cash register, an important part is coming up with creative pitches and solutions for the customers. While this type of creativity is different from a writer or artist, it’s still important. Because every position involves some amount of creativity, whether it be in what a worker produces or in how they solve problems, it’s important to help your employees stay in a creative headspace even during unusual circumstances.

How does creativity happen? 

Many of us may feel a spark or flash of inspiration throughout the day while we interact with people and see new things. Being homebound, you and your employees may be wondering how to stay creative when it seems that your usual influences are no longer an option and there are fewer sources of inspiration to pull from.

The first step to staying creative while working from home and more isolated is to understand how it happens, then adapt that to the new circumstances. The tricky part about studying creativity is the fleeting nature of creativity itself. Creativity itself doesn’t have a dedicated place in the brain where it’s generated. Rather, it seems that it works through networks. 

Grant Hilary Brenner, MD, FAPA explained that the brain has three networks which together work to keep us on track throughout the day. He states there is one for decisions and emotions, one that acts as a “default” mode, and one that manages your conscious and subconscious. Recently, researchers, using MRIs, have suggested that the action of creativity in the brain is more of a communication between the three networks rather than an event in a specific part of the brain. 

Brenner writes that ”for creativity, scientists hypothesize that the Big Three operate as a team: the default mode network generates ideas, the executive control network evaluates them, and the salience network helps to identify which ideas get passed along to the executive control network.”

How to trigger creativity

Since there is no one place in the brain where creativity happens, the way to trigger or enhance your creativity is much more open. More research is being done to help pin down how creativity happens. A researcher specializing in the cognitive ties to the imagination, Valerie van Mulukom suggests there are three major components to encouraging creativity: play, practice and experience. Studies have also shown that watching creative people during their creative process can help to boost your own creativity, for example during brainstorming sessions or in a class or seminar setting. This last suggestion is especially exciting for parents and families. It would seem that playing with and watching your kids be creative and explore their imagination can boost your own.

Some of the specific things mentioned that can hinder our creativity are stress, time constraints, lack of sleep, perfectionism and monotony. Doing the same thing every day, always staying hooked to your phone and email, and the stresses of life today can all hinder a person’s ability to stay creative. Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, MD, suggests that creatives should “welcome boredom and reduce multitasking” to help foster creativity rather than dampen it. 

What can you do?

So, you and your employees are stuck at home. You aren’t interacting with many people and you aren’t able to experience the world or new things. The news is stressful and the world seems on edge. Suddenly you and your team are working from home and maybe trying to battle distractions you aren’t used to. How can you stay creative in spite of all those deterrents and help your employees do the same?

Don’t lose hope! Here are a few suggestions that will help spark your creativity:

Start writing. 

If you haven’t ever been a consistent journal keeper, now is the time. You probably have thoughts bouncing around in your head and writing them down can help you organize your thoughts and possibly come up with your next great idea. Keep your notebook close by and anytime a thought or idea for your team or your workload comes to mind, write it down.

Try meditation. 

This is one that can be difficult, especially if you don’t engage in meditation on a regular basis. But it’s a must during stressful times to help you center your mind and thoughts. This will help you step away from your phone and computer and enjoy a few minutes with just yourself. Check out YouTube for some guided meditation videos if you need some direction. 

Make lists.

Make lists about anything and everything. Whether it’s your list of books to read, people to call, emails to write or information to relay to your team, it can help you organize your thoughts and get you thinking of more. 

Get your body moving.

Move around as much as you can. It may be suffocating staying inside all day every day. While many have been encouraged to stay at home, we have also been encouraged to go outside for some physical activity and fresh air. Try taking a walk, a hike, a bike ride or just sit outside and enjoy nature. Working from home also gives the unique opportunity to work outside if your type of work allows. You may consider encouraging your employees to take a daily walk during their lunchtime or spend a few minutes outside during a conference call. 

Clean it up.

Get your space clean and organized. Clutter can be distracting and keep you from focusing on your task at hand. Rather than fight the distraction, beat it by taking an evening to organize and clean your environment. This is another key suggestion for your group. Encouraging them to share and take pride in their work-from-home spaces will help them identify how to improve their environment, which will ultimately help them in their work. 

Take an online class. 

There are many options online and kits you can purchase to learn a new skill or technique. Check out the hundreds of options on Udemy, Bluprint, YouTube or Amazon. You will be amazed at the things you can try. There are also many industry-specific classes or lectures you can recommend to employees that may have less to do right now. 

Dream about the future.

Take this time at home to make a vision board. It can be extremely helpful to keep your goals present and around you, while also helping you reduce stress and keep your mind off of a seemingly endless stream of tense news alerts. As you navigate a new normal, keeping in mind your business and work goals can be beneficial as you make decisions about how to proceed. 

Stay virtually connected. 

Catch up with friends and family and stay connected to your work associates. Even though we aren’t encouraged to make social visits at this time, you can still use FaceTime, Skype, texting and calling to stay in touch with your favorite people. A conversation with another creative person can help you have that burst of creativity you’re looking for. Try Zoom for a group meeting or simply send a message for input from a trusted work friend.

Make something. 

Whether you cook a meal, build a fort, knit a sweater or draw a picture, the act of creating something physical, even if the end result isn’t perfect, can help you focus and get your brain in a creative mode. Once your brain’s networks get moving, you’ll feel the flow of creativity in many ways and might come up with that next great idea. Try recommending to your team that they explore their hobbies in their off time and foster an environment where they can share those creations with each other. 

Read a book. 

Any book will help your brain go into creative mode. Reading forces you to imagine images and concepts, allowing you to use your creativity to step into a world completely constructed by your creativity and guided by the creativity of another. With so many inspirational and career-focused options out there, you could read a book as a work team and share your thoughts as you go. 

Try out a new podcast. 

There are hundreds of options for every genre and it’s easy to find one that teaches you something new. Try a topic you aren’t familiar with and enjoy the chance to research something new and interesting. You can also check out the hundreds of business and work-related podcasts available. 

See what others are doing.

Practice what PsychCentral calls “creative grazing.” Take a few minutes to browse Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, blogs and other creative sites to see what others are doing. Be aware of what inspires you and what you want to try. Encourage your employees to share what they like and what they’ve noticed during their creative grazing. 

What do you need?

Respond to a need, whether in your work life or personal life. PsychCentral recommends identifying something your business, family or home needs and coming up with a solution for the problem. You may find that you think of several options for how you want to tackle the challenge. 

Turn on your music and jam out. 

Listening to your favorite music can put you in a good mood and help you get in the right headspace to create. Music is a byproduct of another person’s creativity and you can absorb that creative energy. It doesn’t hurt that you might have a mini-dance party too! This is also another opportunity to stay connected as a team. Encourage your employees to share what they’ve been listening to or create a playlist you all can share. 

Use the internet.

If you are looking for inspiration, a topic generator can be a huge help. HubSpot and Portent are just a couple of the options out there. Force yourself to truly focus on the random topic you’re given and you will push your brain into the creativity flow. 

Give aromatherapy a try.

Brighten your environment with a scented candle. In an article by Sally Augustin, Ph.D., she states that the right scent can have a powerful impact on the function of your brain. For better cognitive performance, try lemon or jasmine and for creativity specifically, cinnamon and vanilla smells are the way to go. You may want to pass this tip on to your team and see how it works for them.

There are dozens of ways to help you stay creative even when you are stuck at home alone. While these circumstances may be overwhelming, they can also provide you with the time to focus on embracing and growing your creativity. 

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