Five ways to be creative while working full-time

Published August 1, 2016   Posted in How to Think

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?

Pinterest: Get more creative at workThe 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?

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28 responses to “Five ways to be creative while working full-time”

  1. I think #3 is a great idea but others may see it as “more work”. As a former administrator, if someone volunteered to take on projects, I was often happy to move other assignments away from them. Maybe offering to do something you want to do will limit other tasks (or at least make them more tolerable knowing a creative outlet is available too). #4 is definitely overlooked by many too!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Vicki – appreciate your comment. Shifting work around so people can do things that are more to their liking sounds like an excellent plan. After all, if people do what they like, the work product will often show it!

  2. I try to remind myself to get out on walks but I can do better with that. It just helps test the eyes a bit and clear my mind. Plus it’s probably good to stretch the legs every once in a while!

    • Steve says:

      True that, not only do walks help to clear your head, but yes, stretching the legs is never a bad thing! Sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for us humans anyway. 🙂

  3. I read somewhere that the activities you do in your spare time before you are retired become the ones that you do afterward. So far, that has been true for me. You have to find time for what you love, after all. I don’t seem to have much more time after I retired in April then when I was working. Enjoy!

    • Steve says:

      I hope that’s true for me as well, cause that means I’ll be blogging a lot and keeping up with my videography – two things that I especially enjoy doing. 🙂

  4. I agree that breaking out of the routine can be helpful. There is so much out there right now about establishing a routine and doing things exactly the same way each day to optimize efficiency. Sure, there’s a place for routine, but we’re humans, not robots!

    I’ve found blogging to be a great “creative” outlet. Volunteering is also a great idea! I know I’ve found myself trying new skills and tasks that way.

    • Steve says:

      We’re not robots! And very, very true – blogging is an excellent creative outlet, and volunteering can definitely get us doing things that we may have never done before. All good things. They open our eyes to new possibilities.

  5. Macros and pivots tables can really be your friends with excel and save for a lot of manual work.

    Not only volunteering for creativity task around the office, but many companies have volunteering opportunities outside the office for events. I have been involved in a few over the years, that have gotten me out of the office during the week and helps out a great organization.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, Excel macros can do some amazing things. And I don’t think my company does that same thing, but we do just give money to a particular charity instead. Not the same, but still something. 🙂

  6. Mr. PIE says:

    In my experience, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a great way to fuel some creativity. When we get outside our comfort zone, it is amazing what we can summon up from inside to get things done. Sometimes things we never thought we could do. Yes, it may take a little longer but boy the satisfaction in doing something new is uplifting.

    • Steve says:

      Yup! Getting out of your comfort zone is an awesome way to get more creative and thinking outside the box. Doing the same thing day in and day out gets mind-numbing!

  7. When I first joined this company, I found all sorts of things I wanted to be involved in, particularly the community development and grant awarding side. I expressed interest on being on the committee and was shot down. I just wasn’t important enough. Enter the theme for my entire tenure. I volunteer and get refused. So my creative outlet is mostly writing, and planning my ultimate escape, I’ll have to try that teeth before hair thing though. That sounds awesome.

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, thanks Jolly! Writing is a great way to get (and stay creative). And blogging is a medium to enable that creativity that other people can actually read and enjoy. A win-win.

  8. Apathy Ends says:

    We started doing Fitbit challenges during the workweek – to catch up with all the Pokemon goers I started takin a few 10 minute walks during the day – now part of my routine because I enjoyed it so much.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Fitbit challenges sound like fun. Pokemon Go? Yeah, I still haven’t figured that one out yet, but at least it’s getting people outside! 🙂

  9. Mr. SSC says:

    I have a 2pm “walk” scheduled on my calendar that recurs everyday. It’s a nice reminder that I haven’t been outside yet, and gives me a good excuse to go walk a couple of blocks and clear my head. I find getting out of the office is a great way to think through a problem I’m stuck on.

    Also, just turning around and gazing out the window helps too. When I was in an interior office, I printed out a 3’x4′ “window” of a mountain scene I took off the top of Mt. Princeton in CO. It worked almost as well as a real window and I would gaze at it and work thru a problem as well.

    • Steve says:

      Good on you for scheduling a 2pm walk! Nothing wrong with scheduling a little time away. And back when I used to work in an office, I often did gaze out the window…and that’s pretty much all I did while in high school. My head was *always clear* then… HA! 🙂

  10. The last one really resonated with me. Most people do more talking about doing something than they actually spend doing it!

    Unfortunately, many workplaces don’t want workers to be creative. They want us to get the work done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    I’ve seen people almost get fired for being “creative”.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, Mr. Tako – they definitely do. But yeah, I admit some companies make it easier to be creative than others, and that’s sad!

  11. You are speaking my language! I think creative outlets are SO important. And if you can’t get them at work, then make them happen in your life outside of work — write a blog, experiment with new recipes, volunteer to tackle a project with no obvious solution, commit to making the gifts you give people instead of buying them, etc. At work, I try to use creativity by always volunteering for brainstorming sessions (even outside of my “lane”), taking on writing assignments instead of more straightforward tasks, and mentoring others, which is always surprisingly creative. Love this post!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks ONL! I’m right there with ya on the importance of staying creative. Yup, blogging, cooking, volunteering…all wonderful ways of getting creative. And you used the word “lane” in a business-related way. I can tell you’re in one of “those” positions at work! My boss used to say that. 😉

      Thanks for the love on this post!

  12. Jenn says:

    Thank you for linking the ‘unimportant’ blog entry! I discovered your blog after you wrote that so it was new to me and EXACTLY what I needed to read.

  13. I’m glad to see you mentioned the power of getting up and taking a walk. Many of my best creative ideas have struck me in the middle of a walk or run. I’m sure I appear crazy to folks in the neighborhood when I stop in the middle of the sidewalk, pull out my iPhone, and start typing out bullet points or other anecdotes in the middle of a run. There is definitely a powerful link between exercise and creativity.

    Ironically, I also find that doing yard work sparks my creativity. Something about getting my hands a little dirty and connecting with mother nature seems to inspire me. Am I weird in that regard?

    • Steve says:

      I’m sure most people just assume you’re playing Pokemon Go when you whip out your phone and start typing, so they won’t think anything of it! 🙂

      Yeah, back when I used to own a house, picking weeds would occasionally elicit some brilliant idea within me. I think it was the robotic and repetitive behavior that my subconscious mind would pretty much handle for me, allowing the rest of me to actually think about something useful.

  14. Jack says:

    A change of scenery is the best way to get the creative juices flowing. It’s so hard to think differently when everything around you is the same ol’, same ol’.

    When it comes to automation, I love my macros. Whether it’s Excel, or setting up my name/email/blog address as AutoHotKeys, it’s great to be able to turn repetitive actions into single keystrokes.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, whenever everything is the “same ol'”, it is tough to think outside the box. And yes, another user of Excel macros and hot keys. 🙂

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