Unpacking the Cluttered Closets of Your Mind

I am working on several new projects, that are a little scary and a little exciting. These things have been in the back of my mind for a while. I haven’t really talked about them or thought about them in any kind of practical way until the last week. They are the sort of projects that are in danger of becoming dust-covered clutter in the closet of my mind. The kinds of things you can just put away until later.


We took a short (and wonderful) trip to the beach last week. We left on a Thursday night and came back home Sunday. I took along my iPad and a notebook, thinking the time in the car would be perfect for doing some work. On the way there, I just read and napped. Then, on Friday and Saturday, I swam, ate, played in the sand, read a little more, swam some more, went for a very long walk and napped.


Doesn’t sound like much work got done, does it? On the way home, a work-related thought crossed my mind, so I got out my notebook – and ended up with pages and pages of notes. In fact, the skeleton of a plan for a couple of those projects turned up in all those notes. I got further in an hour or two in the car all sun kissed and beach-tired than I had in a month at home.


I’ve never been the kind of creative person who is dependent on some mysterious muse to grant me ideas. Writing is work, and like any work, it’s something you just have to sit down and do. If you need to wait until inspiration hits, you should give up any thoughts of making a living writing.  At the same time, in order write well, you do need what I think of as “mental space.” There has to be room in your mind for your thoughts to move around and connect in new and interesting patterns.


My guess is that any kind of work requires the same sort of mental dexterity. An unusual marketing scheme will attract attention. A creative combination of flavors will bring customers through the restaurant doors. An unusual grouping of plants can make a display in a retail establishment. Creativity is necessary in every business because you have to be original and give your customers a reason to come to you and not the guy across the street.


While a routine is good and fosters creativity in its own way, doing something completely different (and in this case unplanned) can cause those “lightning strike” moments of creativity. I was worried about coming home to a big mess and feeling exhausted and needing a week to recover from a three day vacation. Instead, I came home with a notebook of ideas to implement and a renewed dedication (to make more money so there can be more trips to the beach!).


Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to predict what will work the best at any particular time. When I’m “stuck” on a garden-variety Tuesday, a hard run or other work out might get the mental wheels turning, but not always. Time outside usually helps, but again, not always. Like last weekend, a short trip can be the key, but other times only lead to exhaustion.


Do you have a need to foster creativity in your work? Is there an activity that seems to spur your mental processes, or a time of day that is more conducive to creativity for you? Have you ever been surprised that something did or didn’t help you think creatively? 

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