Out of the blue, a fellow coworker texted me with “I need to be creative!” a couple weeks ago. I felt his pain. When you work in a highly technical field like we do, how can we combine the demands of our jobs from our natural desire to be creative?
The balance is tough to find.
Creativity isn’t only for those of us who work in artsy fields. All of us, to some degree, need to let our minds run free. We must exercise our brains in unrestricted ways, figuring out what is possible, trying new things, thinking outside the box. And for too many of us, our jobs don’t release our brains into a free flowing environment where anything is possible.
On the contrary, jobs tend to confine our brains to left-side tasks, churning through data, coming up with specific answers to problems within the tight boundaries of doing business. It gets insufferable.
But, there are ways to tap into that right-side brain of yours, plucking out little bits of creative wisdom. How many of these do you practice at your full-time job?
Five ways to be creative at work
1. Do things differently
Our lives become mind-numbingly dull and repetitive when we do every damn thing the same way. Eventually, we go on auto-pilot and our subconscious brain takes over to complete the task for us. Imagine sticking both hands into a black box and completing a Rubix cube based solely on muscle memory. It’s cool at first, but it eventually becomes old hat.
Get creative by doing something different. Anything. Try a new routine at home as you get ready for work. Brush your teeth before combing your hair rather than after. Take the back roads to work instead of the interstate. Rather than checking your email the bloody minute that you sit down at your desk in the morning, chat with a coworker instead.
In other words, yank yourself out of auto-pilot and put the right side of your brain to work. Doing things differently requires mental attention. As the ol’ noodle gets charged by switching things up, you may find that your new routine works better.
2. Automate hate
Pick some things out of your day that you hate and try your best to automate them. Need to send out a report every week? Find a way to automatically collect the data. For example, most people only use a fraction of what Microsoft Excel is capable of. Become a wizard at whatever office productivity software that you use and automate the stuff that you don’t like. Learn a programming language to help take care of repetitive tasks for you, clearing more of your day to pursue something meaningful. Heck, you may stumble on a new skill that another business needs. And hey, that’s money!
Or, can you take the unimportant route and get out of it entirely?
3. Volunteer for creative tasks
I know this goes against my whole philosophy of being unimportant, but hang with me for a second. Consider volunteering for additional tasks that truly interest you at work. Many of these tasks will include a creative component, like maintaining the company’s web site, or creating charts or graphs for a report, or even going to college career fairs or trade shows and representing the company. In a previous life, I offered to help maintain the web site of a small business that I used to work for, which turned into an opportunity to lead the creative components of the site. An awesome opportunity.
Also, be open with your boss about your work. If you want to get more involved in a creative element of the company, ask! Many in leadership appreciate it when staff members express an interest in getting more involved within the company. It means you’re probably going to be around for the long haul, which could make raises and promotions easier to justify.
4. Get out of the office
One of the best ways to clear your mind is also quite simple: leave. Step out of the office and take time for yourself during the day. Walk around the office building. Or, take a day off when you feel like you need one. When you’re in a rut, the very best way to get yourself out and thinking more creatively is to stop doing what you’re currently doing. If you must, schedule time into your day for this time. Once your “free thinking” time comes, take it. You’re done with work for a few minutes.
There is nothing wrong or “lazy” about taking time for yourself – every day, even while you’re at work.
Work quality shrinks when you’re confined to a desk and a monitor. Innovation suffers. And let’s face it, sitting on your ass all day just plain sucks. It’s not good for your mind, body or soul.
5. Stop talking and start doing
It’s great to want to be more creative, but what are you actively doing to make it happen? Are you recording your ideas somewhere and refining them every day? Are you setting time aside to address these ideas? We can want something bad enough until we are blue in the face, but if we refuse to prioritize that something, it will never happen. Guaranteed.
Being more creative at work is as simple as doing it. Take some of these ideas and try them out. Test them. Refine them. Along the way, you will probably stumble on an even better idea. And that’s great! Try that one, too. Just do it.
Don’t talk about being creative, or text your buddies lamenting the fact that your job is akin to a jail cell for your mind. A lot of us are in the same boat. It happens. Very rarely does talk produce results. Stop talking and start doing.
What other ideas for being more creative while at work do you have? What has worked the best for you in the past?
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.