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Creativity and organization are not incompatible.

In case you haven’t read my last couple of blog posts, I have been discussing how some books, articles and other literature have been claiming that messiness aids creativity, while others claim the opposite.

Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, authors of YOU: On a Diet, claim that visual clutter slows down the brain. That’s why clusters of road signs double the chances of missing the one you’re looking for. It also explains why website designers aim for simplicity.

As we read more about the workings of our brain, we also learn even more about the importance of getting organized. For example, according to neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg, author of The overflowing brain, the more items on your desk, the greater the demand on your attention. And mental clutter is a suspect in the cause of age-related memory losses. Clearing clutter from your desk, office and home and leaving more wide open spaces also helps to clear your mind so it will be more productive.

There is a seemingly opposing view that mess is great for generating ideas, and many people (including a successful TV personality and producer) feel they are successful because of their messy environment.

I take the middle ground, and mentioned in my previous articles how professional organizer Clare Kumar had referred to “process mess,” an acceptable temporary mess, generated by the nature of the work itself. The accompanying photo shows a view of my office before I started work in the morning. (The photo last week showed it during the writing process.) I admitted that I do get ideas during the messier writing process; but when it comes to the large part of my time involving administrative work, an organized environment wins hands down.

I am a confirmed neatnik. (I have an almost irresistible urge to straighten pictures on the walls of someone else’s home when I am an invited guest.) Before I start writing, my materials are organized on and around my desk. Articles on the topic previously ripped from magazines, notes I have written to myself on the topic in the past, seminar notes on the topic, etc. are stored vertically in manila folders to my left. Books on the topic are within reach in an accordion bookcase on to the back of my desk (having been removed from my library of books in advance.) Electronic Kindle books on the topic are readily accessible on both my laptop and iPad, and articles, tweets and other items that I have written in the past are filed in electronic folders on my desktop. Everything is neat and tidy and ready to go – as depicted in both this week’s photo and the one posted two weeks ago.

But once the writing process is underway, the neatness transforms into “organized mess” or “process mess,” which sometimes may slip into the “disorganized mess” category; but not often, since I usually write for only 90 minutes at a time. I described this stage of my writing process last week.

If you want to have a working environment that is always supportive of creativity, try merging it more with nature. Richard Louv, in his book, The nature principle, claims that reconnecting to nature opens new doors to creativity, and that “creative people are often aware of being drawn to the outdoors for refreshment and ideas.” He mentioned that creative people like Albert Einstein and philosopher Kurt Godel used to take walks in the woods every single day at Princeton campus.

Louv also quotes Hilary Mantel, 2009 winner of the Booker Prize, as saying “I always work outside, if I can. It’s important to grab the instant thought.”

Florence Williams, in her 2017 book, The nature fix, adds more examples of creative people who believed in walking outdoors while thinking, such as Aristotle, Darwin, Tesla, Teddy Roosevelt and Beethoven. Williams laments that we’re losing our connection to nature

In choosing your office and decor, you should not overlook indoor plants and greenery, window views of nature, and even paintings of flowers and landscapes. The more we gravitate toward the cities and hole up in our offices, the more we withdraw from nature and its largely unrecognized or unappreciated benefits.

Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves not only creativity, but productivity, performance and learning ability as well. In the case of schools, the presence of plants improved scores in mathematics spelling and science between 10% and 14%.

So it would appear that walking, thinking and working outdoors would be the first choice for generating ideas, and if you can’t do your creating outdoors, bring as much as possible of nature into your work area – even if it is just painting the walls green, the color most associated with creativity.

In my eBook, How work environment impacts productivity, published by Bookboon.com, I relate some personal experiences with working environments. One of my most productive routines is to take a 15 or 20 minute nature walk, ending up at a coffee shop where I write the article dreamed up along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

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Busyness is the enemy of creativity

Our lives are being filled with so much activity that we no longer have time to think creatively. The old adage that “busyness is not effectiveness” never applied more than it does today – when we are working longer and faster, and multitasking more frequently.

Our tendency is to fill every minute with activity. We seem to have a fear of empty space. Just as an emptied drawer doesn’t stay empty long, so freed-up time doesn’t stay free long. If there’s a pause in a conversation, we’re quick to fill it. If we ask a question and there’s no immediate response, we answer it ourselves. If we’re waiting in a line-up, we grab for our smartphone to check email or send a quick text message.

It’s difficult to make time for creativity in this digital age of speed. Electronic tablets, smart phones and other PDAs are efficient beyond imagination. Unfortunately it’s the imagination that is the key to successful ventures. And smart phones are just plain stupid when it comes to creativity. I sometimes think we would be better off with more doodle pads and fewer keypads.

I’m not knocking technology. It has been the greatest time saver of all time, and it makes our earlier efforts at efficiency seem pathetic. But we have to control it. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Don’t be afraid to turn off your smartphone, ignore email and engage voice mail for an hour or more during the day. History has proven that we can survive for at least 60 minutes without the use of technology.  The key is to make use of the virtual world while still feeling great, having healthy relationships, and remaining connected to the here and now.

Most of the latest books on creativity, such as Your Creative Brain (2010) and Imagine: How creativity works (2012) agree that we are all creative and every day we perform hundreds of creative acts. And everyone is able to train their creative brain.

If that’s true, why do so many people struggle with coming up with novel ways to market, write, promote, produce and so on? I would suggest that one of the reasons is that we don’t have time to be creative. You don’t get your most creative ideas while rushing to a meeting or racing to get to the grocery store before it closes. Ideas come when you’re relaxing in a hot tub, lying on the beach or strolling in a park.

When a NY Times reporter interviewed several winners of the MacArthur “genius” grants, most said they kept cell phones and iPads turned off when in transit so they could use the downtime for thinking. That’s what most people are lacking. Research shows that people think more creatively when they are calm, unhurried, and free from stress. Time pressures lead to tunnel vision.

Michael Gebb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci, asked the question “Where are you when you get your best ideas?”  The answer was seldom “At work.”  It was usually “while walking, taking a shower, listening to music” or some other non-work-related activity.  Making work your whole life is detrimental to your work.

People usually get their best ideas, not when they are busy working, but while relaxing at home, on vacation or just before dozing off at night. You are not doing yourself a favor by skipping lunches or vacations or continually multitasking. Make time for creative thinking by going for long walks, taking regular breaks, having leisurely lunches and keeping normal hours. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself staring at the sky or watching steam rise from your coffee. That’s when you might get your best ideas.

And it’s good for your health as well.

 

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Managing your brain, part 9

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Creativity in action.

My habit over the past twenty years or more was to go for a walk in the morning with my writing tools tucked inside a computer bag, thinking along the way about the article I was to write that morning. When I reached my destination – a coffee shop about twenty minutes from my home, I would take out my pad and pen, and amazingly I would complete the article without difficulty in the span of 30 minutes or so. It had almost written itself in my mind as I had been walking.

I originally thought it was the fresh air, relaxed state of mind, and the free time available to think about the topic that made the ideas and thoughts flow so easily.

But it was actually the body movement. Our creative ability is enhanced by walking, exercise or even simply gesturing. As expressed by Sean Beilock in her book, How the body knows the mind, (Atria Books, 2015) “moving the body can alter the mind by unconsciously putting ideas in our head before we are able to consciously contemplate them on our own.”

Movement can help us to solve problems and even increase productivity. And it’s one of the keys to remembering long lists of information in workshops through the storytelling, thinking and association techniques that we teach. (See my ebook, Boost your memory and strengthen your mind, published by Bookboon.com.

Moving your body can actually change how you think. Whether you are an actor rehearsing lines, a speaker memorizing a speech or a student recalling facts, when you include motion either physically or in your mind during the memorizing process, it makes memory and recall easier.

You have no doubt heard the expression “thinking outside the box” when talking about creativity. Well, researchers at Cornell University actually had volunteers sit inside a huge box while solving problems. They were outperformed by others walking freely outside the box. So resist the impulse to sit at your desk when solving a problem. And don’t sit around a boardroom table when brainstorming new ideas in your company. Research appears to substantiate the wisdom of stand-up meetings from more than simply a time management perspective.

The neurotransmitter, dopamine, which declines with age, plays a role in creativity, and exercise helps to slow or prevent this decline. So keep active your entire life; because if you’re idle, your mind may be idle as well. By managing your body, you are helping to manage your brain as well; because the body and the brain work in tandem.

This doesn’t mean you won’t get ideas while working at your desk as well. Ideas could flash through your mind and then disappear while you are busy working on a project. It’s a good idea to capture those thoughts immediately – either in a journal, smart phone or booklet – something more substantial than a scrap of paper that could itself disappear.

For example, we have a “Back Burner” page at the back of our Taylor Planner where we can quickly jot down those fleeting thoughts before continuing with the task at hand. The Daily Priority Pad also has a section for these ideas.  Creativity frequently happens when you’re busy doing something else. You can see both of these items at our website, taylorintime.com.

By the way, I still take that walk – sometimes varying the route and coffee shop. I still write the article, or book chapter or whatever longhand, in cursive writing – perhaps from habit – but I do believe it is also good exercise for the brain. Then I dictate it to my computer when I get home – using voice-activated software.