When you have a problem to solve or a creative project to write for, it can seem like the best thing to do is just sit down and motor on through until you come up with the perfect solution. In truth, that can be one of the worst ways to get to the answer. Read on to find out how best to access your creative mind…
Today’s question comes from Amber D. who asks, “Sometimes when I get assigned a project, I sit down and try to work it through but, after a couple of hours, my brain seizes up. And then I’ve got nothing! Do you have any advice?”
Sometimes people use a metaphor comparing the brain to a machine; something like “it’s the most powerful computer in the world.” And this is true, except that, in many ways, it works very little like a machine or a computer. You can flip a computer on, use it until you’re done with it and get exact, perfect results. Unfortunately, you can’t just “flip on” your brain and expect it to spit out the right answer.
When you have a creative project you need a solution for, it seems like the right thing to do to sit down and try to power through until you come up with the right/best answer. And this might work for the way you function, but not for the way your brain does.
To do its job for creative, problem-solving work, the brain actually does better reaching interesting and effective solutions when you’re not focused on the problem. If you’ve ever worked a puzzle or a crossword, stepped away for an hour and come back to find that you miraculously have a few more answers, you’ve seen this in action.
While you need to spend a little bit of time with the problem to begin with (so that you completely understand it), you’ll find that you can come up with even better creative solutions if you then take your attention away from the problem for a bit of time and occupy your brain with something completely different for a while.
Even though your conscious attention is on something else, your brain will continue working on the problem without you being aware of it, synthesizing ideas and concepts you might not normally put together. In essence, your brain is often most creative when its conscious attention is not focused on the problem you have to solve!
This means, too, that sometimes too much attention on a problem can actually keep your brain from being able to best solve it!
When you have the time to do it, the very best way to concept a new project (or solve any type of puzzle or creative question) is to spend a bit of time immersing yourself in the question or project, and then step away. Go to lunch, go to a meeting on a completely different topic, take a shower (if you’re working from home, of course) or do else that doesn’t tax your brain too much and that doesn’t pertain to the puzzle you’re trying to solve.
Then, after an hour or two, try tackling your project again. (This is also the ideal time to have your concepting session with your design partner). You’ll often find yourself coming up with solutions that surprise you.
Your turn! Have you ever come up with a creative solution after giving your brain some “time off” from the problem? What’s your go-to “time off” activity? Let us know in the questions below!