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9 Daily Exercises that I Do to Keep My Creative Muscle in Shape

No matter what profession you’re in, it’s important that you’re able to think creatively and look at your work with fresh eyes every day. Unfortunately, however, it may feel like a challenge to constantly be at the top of your game. The common question I get is “what exercises do you perform to keep

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
3 min read
creativity exercises to improve you ability to innovate imagine imagination

No matter what profession you’re in, it’s important that you’re able to think creatively and look at your work with fresh eyes every day. Unfortunately, however, it may feel like a challenge to constantly be at the top of your game. The common question I get is “what exercises do you perform to keep your creative muscle in top shape?”. Here are the set of daily warm-up exercises I do to keep my creativity in top form.

  1. Use your non-dominant hand to create a sketch or drawing. Your non-dominant hand is typically governed by the right side of your brain, which is where most creative thinking takes place. By completing a drawing with your non-dominant hand, you force that side of your brain to engage and get yourself thinking creatively. Once your brain is appropriately engaged, you'll be surprised by how much more easily creative thought flows.
  2. Complete an incomplete sketch. You can use your dominant hand for this one. If you're working with a partner, have them draw the first piece of the sketch. It might be as simple as a single line or a single object or as complex as several lines that you must work around. Then, you have to complete the sketch. Get creative as you challenge one another to think more and more outside the box, making the initial piece of the puzzle steadily more complicated. Don't have a partner to work with? Without looking at your piece of paper, scribble something with your pencil. Once it's done, you're stuck with it! Now, look down and finish the sketch.
  3. Habitually complete brain teasers. These are exercises designed to encourage you to think outside the box and see things as you don’t normally see them. The more often you complete them, the more comfortable you’ll get seeing possibilities that aren’t immediately obvious.
  4. Abandon social norms. Kick your shoes off underneath your desk (assuming your feet don’t smell too bad!). Sing a song in public. Do some yoga in the office. When you're willing to step outside your comfort zone in one area of your life, you'll be reminded that “the way things are always done” is not necessarily the best or even most effective way to accomplish a task.
  5. Play more often. Are there children in your life? Whether they're your own or someone else's, take advantage of their presence. In my case, its my grand-kids. Engage in their activities. Sit down with them and put together a sculpture made out of marshmallows and toothpicks. Put on a puppet show. Play pretend. Children are naturally creative, and they're not constrained by the logical thinking that often gets in the way of adults. Playing with children makes you get out of your own way, so to speak.
  6. Complete simple creative challenges. Write a six-word story or come up with as many uses for a simple office supply as possible. It's even better if you can compete with others in your work environment: creative competition adds a level of intensity to the creative effort and can help ramp up your problem-solving abilities to the next level. Other creative challenges offer opportunities for discussion with others. This will open your mind and help you see things from a different perspective, adding in other people's creative problem-solving styles to yours.
  7. Change it up. Look outside your usual area of creativity, even if it's not something that you'll ever use in your work. For example, a photographer may change genres and write a short story.  If you typically use graphic design programs to work on your projects, try writing out your ideas in words first for a different perspective. Regularly engaging in different creative areas will help widen your creative scope.
  8. Create restrictions. For example, this site suggests attempting to talk to someone else for fifteen minutes without using the words “I,” “me,” or “mine.” Try deleting other words from your vocabulary for the day. Write a scene or a few lines of dialogue without using a particular letter. Sometimes limiting yourself is the best way to open yourself up to new possibilities.
  9. Change up your location. This is less an “exercise” and more of a last resort. However, if you've been staring at the same spot on the wall for more than fifteen minutes with no results, it's time to move. Take a walk around the office, whether you visit the coffee machine, the restroom, or a colleague's desk. Get out of your office for a little while and spend time outside. By changing your location, you change the input that your brain is getting and make it easier to change your thinking patterns.

You can mix and match these creative exercises, choose the ones that suit you, and return to the ones that don't when you need a real creative boost. The challenge is to force yourself to think creatively on a regular basis, changing your brain's patterns and regularly engaging that right side for its creative properties. The more often you make your brain adapt to new challenges, the more creative you will be.

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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