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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

8 Science-Backed Ways to Come Up With Your Next Brilliant Idea

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Recently, I was cleaning up after lunch, struggling to come up with article pitches for our afternoon editorial meeting. I walked around the office throwing away leftovers, putting dishes in the dishwasher, and wiping my desk of crumbs, frustrated with myself.

As I let my mind wander and relax into the task, a few awesome ideas popped into my head, just like that. Easy.

In fact, in that moment I came up with this exact article idea. Because, I realized, we are so attached to our computers and staying active all the time that we sometimes barricade ourselves from proper thought exploration.

So, I did a bit of research, and found there are a lot of things you can try to increase your creativity and get inspired away from your computer. Take a look at these options for better strategies for brainstorming—and oh yeah, they’re proven by science!

1. Take a Nap

We all know napping boosts productivity (and that it’s great for the generally tired crowd). But did you also know it’s a source of inspiration?

Yup—several studies have shown that dreaming is key for creativity, says Andrew Tate, a writer for Design School. Because your brain is working even when you’re asleep, people who are well rested are more likely to retain information from the day, while dreamers perform better and are “more flexible and open to newer ways of thinking.”

So try to catch some Z’s if you can’t seem to break through your brainstorming session.

2. Drink

Yes, I’m giving you permission to go grab a couple beers. Researchers have found that groups who consume alcohol before brainstorming are more likely to come up with better ideas than sober groups. This is because, says Anthony Rivas of Medical Daily, “participants who were concentrating too hard would sometimes block the creative processes necessary for problem solving (i.e., writers’ block).”

Basically, you might be standing in the way of your own good ideas—and a drink or two might just help calm your brain (as long as you don’t get sloshed).

3. Listen to Music

How many of you blasted your boom box in your room as a kid when you were upset or angry with your parents? I know I did because it used to take my mind off the pain I was feeling.

Well, that’s still applicable today. An article in The Huffington Post says that music is a great way to put yourself into a “mind-wandering” state that’s perfectly conducive to coming up with new and creative ideas. The key, it says, is to pick the right kinds of songs for you. Basically, if you hate pop, Taylor Swift isn’t going to be any more productive than silence.

Now you have an excuse to tune out at work and turn on your favorite playlist. You’re welcome.

4. Stare Out the Window

“Some of our greatest insights come from when we stop trying to be purposeful,” says a School of Life video about the benefits of staring out the window.

I couldn’t agree more—just look at the science. Several studies, according to an article in Fast Company, suggest that boredom forces your mind to seek out more meaningful and significant tasks—a.k.a., come up with great ideas. Daydreaming’s also been highly linked to creativity, as shown in a 2012 New Yorker post, “The Virtues of Daydreaming.”

5. Take a Shower

There’s a reason the phrase “shower thoughts” exists. Scientifically, the act of taking a shower, according to a Buffer blog post, is relaxing—which triggers an abundance of dopamine that’s connected to creative thinking. It’s also distracting, letting our subconscious do its work.

Even more so, I’m a firm believer that a clean body creates a clean mind. The act of washing yourself is a way of getting rid of all that pent-up stress, anxiety, and maybe lack of sleep under your eyes that comes with coming up with new ideas. So, take a break, hop on in, and give yourself a (literal) fresh start and a place to properly think.

6. Go for a Walk

A Stanford study in 2014 found that walking increases creativity—even going on to say that walking indoors is just as effective as outdoors. According to a New Yorker article, even ancient authors, philosophers, and writers argue that there’s a strong correlation between thinking, writing, and walking: “Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.”

So, go for a stroll, no matter where you are in this exact moment—in your office, up and down the building stairs, or around the block. Some fresh air and movement will do your body and mind a ton of good.

7. Wash the Dishes

Studies have shown that this is actually a form of mindless meditation. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the author says that “washing dishes mindfully—focusing on the smell of the soap, and the shape and feel of the dishes, for example—significantly reduced nervousness and increased mental stimulation in dishwashers compared with a control group.” Even better, it’ll force you to lead by example to keep your office kitchen spotless.

8. Do Your Chores

Here’s another win-win situation—completing mindless chores, such as cleaning your desk or organizing your papers, helps make room for inspiration to flow, according to an article in Lifehacker (and proven by my story!). Plus, it gets you up and moving around a bit, as opposed to sitting at your desk all day, waiting endlessly for inspiration to hit.

I bet I just made your day with these non-work-related tips—now get out there and start innovating!