Make decisions, develop your skills and create original work.

It’s tough to schedule creative time into your day when you run a business. But cutting creative thinking from the workday means making important business decisions without enough information, planning or risk assessment. It also sucks, particularly if you’re a person who gets joy from imaginative work.

Creative thinking is especially significant in marketing. There is lots of empirical evidence to suggest that creative language builds new worlds, and the more you communicate, the bigger the worlds become. That’s the founding principle of brand communications; you create a world, make a map, share the map, and others follow & invite their friends.

But, planning a creative pathway with thoroughly imagined steps takes time, focus and effort many don’t have when they’re managing the minutiae of day-to-day responsibilities. I get it. I spend my time selling creative ideas to busy entrepreneurs, often working with brands at the seed stage of life when they are full of potential. It’s a stage when brands are their most exciting, yet their founders are most burnt out. Encouraging someone to do some market tests when their mortgage is on the line is not easy. So here are some of the practices I picked up along the way to help people manage.

Protect Your Creative Self

This sounds a bit woo, I realise but hear me out. It means shutting down the parts of your brain that tell you to quit, to do something more ‘productive,’ that you’re not good enough or that it’s not worth it unless it’s right or *shudders* correct. Because as woo as it sounds, creativity is a process of skill that will give you some by-products as ancillary benefits; a product you can sell, like a book, painting or a service. 

If you want to write a book, you don’t start with the perfect best-seller in your head and then sit down and write it. Even ‘planners‘ don’t have every specific word and phrase ready to go. No, you begin when you have an idea that you believe will pan out with development. Then you sit down every damned day, and you test out the order of the words, the order of the paragraphs, pages and chapters and so on.

Sometimes these tests are good the first time, sometimes they’re terrible and need ripping up, sometimes the tests lead to other tests which are better, or worse, or just the same. The whole process takes a terrifyingly long time, but if you know that the product will get better as your skills improve, you know you have to protect the time you spend on it and not let other things get in the way.

The same is true for running a business. You want to develop, launch and continue to market a new product? The process is the same. It starts with an idea you think will pan out…protect the creative person inside you who believes this is worthwhile. Schedule in the time it takes to develop.

Learn How to Cultivate Ideas

So we’ve established that you’re not going to bring yourself down for scheduling creative time — what’s the next step? How do you make the most of that time? Well, you’ve got to be open to ideas that might become something great! Being open means being rested, being stimulated, being inspired, being thoughtful and listening. Let’s delve into these skills…

    • Being Rested

I used to be an insomniac. I couldn’t stop moving or get out of my head. In the process of trying to get more sleep, I started exercising every day. That tired my body out. To get out of my head, I began writing. That tired my brain out. Now I sleep like a baby, and I feel rested most days. On the days I skip exercise, writing or rest, my heart rate goes up, my asthma gets worse, I get strung out more quickly, I yell at my kids more, and I turn to quick fixes to get me through the day (coffee anyone?). When I do that, my brain goes in fits and starts. I can’t concentrate, but I can’t chill.  I know that rest isn’t always in your control. Kids, pets, noise, worries, pain, dreams etc., will interrupt you, but if you notice when you feel well-rested, then take some time out of that day to study, concentrate on a problem or stimulate your inspiration.

    • Being Stimulated

Stimulus and inspiration are different. A stimulus is something that jogs the brain. Inspiration is the idea that comes after the jog. You can’t force inspiration, but you can trigger your brain as much as you like. Doing low-level boring stuff is brilliant. Anything that requires mechanical movements like walking, running or swimming allows parts of your brain to wander while lots of lovely oxygenated blood pumps to your thinking organ (that’s the brain, lads). You can make the time useful — have a wash, weed the garden, do the dishes. You can build connections more purposefully, too, by brainstorming, playing games, having conversations or asking questions.  But don’t over or under stimulate: don’t do your tax return or zone out in front of the telly.

    • Being Inspired

So you got a little catalyst to eek those grey cells into motion, and now you have an impression — fab! But you got to fan that little spark so it won’t go out. Allow yourself time to think it through. Mark it down first, make an audio note, journal it, doodle in a sketchbook or take a photograph.  When you’re ready to flesh it out, create false pressure, just enough to use stress as fuel for the fire.  For example, set a timer for an hour or book an appointment you’ll need to leave work to get to.  Then take time to look at all the possibilities. Imagine all the avenues this impression could go down to become a fully-fledged idea. Write down several options. Let your heart go wild and do it quickly, without analysis. Then save every silly, serious, bad or great version of this little idea somewhere and walk away.

    • Being Thoughtful

So, you’re in the position where you’ve got a whole heap of ideas. I bet after you walked away, your brain began to mull over the choices and started to feel strongly about one or two of your options? That’s your judgement, taste, experience, and intuition telling you how to proceed.

Now you need to think that idea through—time to get rational. Look at how it could happen, why you should do it. What it might end up being and where you might put it. If you are taking a product to launch, this would be when you start looking at competitors, the market, protecting your idea and so on—time to get to work on those skills that will result in your vision becoming a reality.

    • Listening

Key into interesting things that relate to your idea. Brains love making connections. The more deeply you look into something, the more you’ll start to notice things that relate all around you. The universe sends you loads of clues. Say I’m writing about a kiss, and I suddenly begin witnessing little pecks and big snogs, or I overhear someone talking about a kiss, or a song comes on the radio or a news item on telly. It is your brain’s way of directing information into your idea so that you can develop it according to the big themes in life.

Get Ruthless in Your Appraisals

So in the beginning, I taught you to let yourself go, man. Now I’m saying the opposite? Well, kind of, but not really.

Being ruthless is about being disciplined. Finding the drive to continue even when things are bleak. It’s also about ring-fencing your time. When I worked as a consultant 3 days a week and studied for a full-time masters degree, I asked my husband to act like we were divorced every Sunday. That meant that he had to run it by me if he was working away and take it on himself to arrange childcare if necessary. He had to find our kids’ shoes and make them lunch without interrupting me in my writing shed because (wiggly dream sequence effect) I wasn’t there.

You also need to kill your darlings. Being ruthless in your editing is as important as being free in your process. If it won’t work, doesn’t fit, or ruins the overall effect, no matter how lovely it is or how hard you worked on it, get rid of it.

The last thing is to be ruthless with yourself. Kick perfectionism’s butt, flick the bird at under-confidence. Rejection is par the course when you do creative work. Learn to reject the parts of yourself that show up to undermine you and take feedback for growth from anything that goes wrong.

Understandably, this arduous but rewarding practice gets kicked out of your regular working day. That’s why I developed the Attractivity Brand Story Workshops. To ring-fence time and energy towards solving creative problems. They are either 1-2-1 or group sessions, depending on how many people are in your marketing teams. They are aimed at people who are willing to invest in an idea but want to make that investment as efficient as possible. If this floats your boat, let me know.