Creativity can be … fleeting. That’s especially true for professionals who spend most of their day bothering with technical concepts and processes. It’s a part of your brain that loses strength, if you don’t use it regularly. For that reason, I have a routine that I call thing a day. (At least, that’s how it appears on my calendar.) It’s a daily exercise routine for my creative brain that helps keep the spark going.
Keep the daily creative exercises simple
Here’s the thing about children’s creativity that I love: First, they couldn’t care less whether it’s a masterpiece or not. They made it, and it’s fantastic. (Your opinion does not count.) Second, they don’t have the longest attention spans. They create their masterpieces in 15 minutes, and they’re done, moving on to something else. I encourage you to think of these daily creative exercises in the same ways.
For example, when I’m on a roll, I can knock out a creative thing-a-day idea in 10 to 15 minutes. I’m clearly not talking about broadcast or exhibition quality work here. I won’t be dropping it on a web page and saying, “Look at this cool thing I made.” I’m just keeping the spark going. With that said, here are some simple things you can do every day, and they only take minutes:
- Write a short, silly poem about anything at all.
- Write a half page short story or essay.
- Draw something on the whiteboard and take a picture to save it.
- Make a quick video about something—anything.
- Take a stale diagram and draw it in a new way.
- Find a paragraph you dislike and make it better.
- Create a logo, for anything, like a made-up business.
- Write a few paragraphs about a product idea, no matter how silly.
- Write a small bit of code that solves a problem in a creative way.
- Physically make something, just like you did in grade school.
You don’t have to show your daily creative exercises to anyone—ever—so who gives a flip whether they’re any good or not. What you will do is look back on them whenever you need inspiration. Short of that, you’ll at least ignite some neurons in your brain that haven’t sparked in a long time.
An example thing-a-day
To make it clear how little time I spend on daily creative exercises—and how little I care about quality when doing them—I’ll show you one. It took me a whopping 20 minutes to create this quick-and-dirty snow globe with some physics simulations. The point wasn’t to make a broadcast-ready animation; it was to learn a new animation skill and bank an idea for future use. It’s clearly just a wireframe that I might adapt into a Christmas video one day.
Banking creative ideas
An equally important benefit of my daily creative exercise is that I’m banking ideas for the future. For example, while working on a project, it’s common for me to look through a folder containing all of my things to find inspiration or even a starting point.
Here’s a common scenario: I’ll be working on a technical video and need an animation to explain a complicated subject. I might beat my head against the wall trying to think of a way to communicate that in motion graphics and come up empty. Beating my head against the wall is rarely productive, so I go look in my thing-a-day folder. To my surprise, I’ll find something really cool that I’d never thought of as long as I was approaching creativity with technical requirements.
For example, these are creative ideas that I’ve recently dragged out of my things folder and used:
- A pachinko-machine animation that perfectly explained the idea of app trust.
- A rough sketch of a creative and unique web page, which you’ll find on this site.
- An interesting design for presenting a series of screenshots in documentation.
Thing a week? Whatever
Okay, fine. I say that I do it daily. It’s on my daily calendar, but that’s not always possible. If I’m knee deep in a bunch of projects, thing-a-day becomes thing-a-week. But then, if I’m wading through a stack of projects, I’m usually doing creative work.
And for what it’s worth, this article started life in my thing-a-day folder. It was originally a short paragraph about a child’s creativity. I built this article around it after connecting the dots between that thought and thing-a-day. It’s strange how that works.
Here’s my challenge to you: Give it a try for a week or two. Then, come back and tell me how it went. Drop your thoughts in the comments below.