Clean Your Desk for Productivity (but Keep It Messy for Creativity)

Trash Can designed by Clayton Meador from the Noun Project

Trash Can designed by Clayton Meador from the Noun Project

New research has shown that having a messy desk can help promote creativity. But before you go mess up your work desk even more, consider the opposite impact: having a clean desk has on your ability to be productive. Over on Forbes, David Burkus explains when it makes sense to have a messy desk and when to keep it spotless:

…being in an orderly environment influences us to conform to the conventional expectations set for us. However, being in a messy room helps us depart from those conventions and unlock more divergent thinking…We are more influenced by our environment than we might initially suspect.

We can learn to structure environments to suit our goals and help use more effectively achieve those goals. If you’re trying to bring some more order, healthier choices, and a more generous perspective into your life, then maybe you should start by cleaning up your office and home. However, if you need a creative insight or breakthrough idea, that same tidy office could be stifling your creative thinking.

Burkus dives into an often ignored attribute of the recent research on how our immediate work environment influences our ability to not only be creative, but to be productive. As he explains: if you’re hoping to get a spark of creative insight while you work, having stacks of used paper or various trinkets on your desk can help. However, if you’re looking to dial-in your work and focus, cleaning up your desk would be more beneficial.

Look at which part of the creative process you’re in, then consider how your work environment is helping or hindering what needs to be done. But before you do, head over to Forbes to read all of Burkus’ advice on the subject.

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Learn the Rules & Then Break Them

dp_wrongtheory4_f

Scott Dadich’s spread for an article on Ridley Scott in Wired Magazine.

Editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine Scott Dadich says it’s time to start getting it wrong. In the field of technology design, we have figured out how to do it right. We have beautiful, sleek devices that are an ease to use – and it’s getting boring:

…once a certain maturity has been reached, someone comes along who decides to take a different route. Instead of trying to create an ever more polished and perfect artifact, this rebel actively seeks out imperfection—sticking a pole in the middle of his painting, intentionally adding grungy feedback to a guitar solo, deliberately photographing unpleasant subjects. Eventually some of these creative breakthroughs end up becoming the foundation of a new set of aesthetic rules, and the cycle begins again.

Dadich emphasizes that it’s not about throwing out design rules and starting from scratch. You need to master the rules so you can effectively break them. In his work for Wired Magazine, Dadich would apply his ‘Wrong Theory’ in small ways by only breaking one or two rules to regain visual interest. He would make large images small, overlap graphic and type and put headlines at the end of stories. Our future lies in failure as Dadich states, “…only by courting failure can we find new ways forward.”

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Use the Restroom Test to Make the Most of Conferences

Toilet Paper designed by Collectif Intro from the Noun Project

Toilet Paper designed by Collectif Intro from the Noun Project

Being shy or introverted doesn’t mean you can’t network like a pro at events. Over at Atomic Spin, Phil Kirkham gives us three tips on how to get the most from a conference or event. Our favorite is The Restroom Test, a way to check how well you’re doing at mixing and mingling with your fellow event-goers:

Take a walk to the restroom and back and see how many people that you did not know previously nod in recognition or say Hi. By the second day of the conference, I could count on getting at least 5 nods of recognition during my walk.

Even if you’re not overly shy, conferences can be intimidating thanks to the sheer number (and talents) of those around you. If at the end of the conference, you still find yourself among only strangers, it’s a good indicator that you’re not making the most of your time there. At the heart of it, Kirkham’s Restroom Test is a great way to not only help measure the number of new people you’re meeting during the event, but also to strengthen your memory of them. 

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Paul Jarvis: Find Your Rat People

rats

Illustration of Paul Jarvis’ rats

Web designer and author Paul Jarvis wants you to find your “rat people.” These are the people who are passionate about the same things as you, in Jarvis’ case, that’s pet rats. Not everyone is going to have the same interests and that’s perfectly alright. However, stay away from those who insult you because of who you are.

The ones who think your work is useless or worse, disgusting don’t truly matter. Their dissension should fall on deaf ears because they’d never support you, pay you or join your secret club. When you give up trying to please everyone your work becomes much more focused and valuable to the people that matter.

Your rat people get what you do and love it. These are the people you should look for as clients, have on your mailing list and friend on social media. Too often we let the client decide if we are the right designer for them when we should be questioning if they are the right client for us. Jarvis reminds us, “for your creativity to support you, you need to find your 1%. Your rat people.”

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Recover from Failure with a Deep-Tissue Post-Mortem

Stones by Roberto Notarangelo from The Noun Project

Stones by Roberto Notarangelo from The Noun Project

Creative professionals who practice rapid iteration believe in the mantra of “fail fast, fail often.” And while quickly bouncing back from mistakes is essential to accelerated progress, not adequately reflecting upon failure can prevent complete recovery. Sometimes, deeper reflection is needed.

Founder and CEO of “failure consultancy” Fail Forward, Ashley Good, recommends performing what she calls a “deep-tissue post-mortem” to thoroughly recover from failure:

Our tendency in times of failure is to try to figure out what caused it, fix it as soon as possible and move on. That undermines the depth of learning that’s possible.

Good suggests asking the following questions to get started:

Try to figure out why the failure happened. What assumptions were made? What experiences led to it? That really deepens what you can learn from the experience. Also, listen to other perspectives on what happened. I often bring together different stakeholders in the failure to talk about it. If you bring five people together, you’ll get five different stories about what went wrong.

Don’t just sweep the failures under the rug and move on. Take some time to sufficiently prepare yourself for when you will, inevitably, fail again.

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For Better Ideas, Use Your Blank Space

Outline designed by Diogo Trindade from the Noun Project

Outline designed by Diogo Trindade from the Noun Project

Intentionally leaving part of an idea blank can actually make it more engaging. Over at Harvard Business Review, author Matthew E May describes the benefit leaving intentional spaces in our work creates:

When we respect the white space — or when we intentionally create by removing just the right thing in just the right way — we allow others to fill the void, adding their own interpretation and impact. In fact, I’d argue that some of the most engaging ideas have something purposefully missing. Limiting information engages the imagination

There is nothing more powerful than the ability of the human mind to create meaning from missing information. Whatever form your idea takes–strategy, product, service, startup–if you want it to “tip,” you might just want to make it more about less.

A great example of this strategy in action would be working on a story — for a novel, or a project storyboard — and creating only the beginning and the ends. Presenting the story to your peers allows them to generate their own ideas for what happens in-between, ultimately creating a more powerful story than if you had otherwise come up with it entirely, from beginning to end, on your own.

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Got a Great Idea? Find Your “Devil’s Advocate” First.

Sinner designed by Jim Lears for The Noun Project

Sinner designed by Jim Lears for The Noun Project

You’ve come up with a great idea to advance your work. It’s going to change the world! And it’s so great, that you move fast to execute it. But not so fast says Todd Henry, the founder of Accidental Creative.

No matter how great an idea sounds, if we don’t properly evaluate it, we run the risk of not shaping it to its most optimal state, seeing all possibility, or foreshadowing potential problems.

So when a genius idea strikes, Henry suggests we:

Spend time thinking about the opposite viewpoint. If you were going to make an argument against it, what would it be?

Find someone to play “devil’s advocate.” Ask them to challenge you with questions that provoke doubts and poke holes in your idea.

Pause – just for a moment – before execution. Why? Because the initial excitement over an idea can lead to ignoring obvious blemishes and result in substandard work.

It’s hard to argue against a promising idea, especially one that seems like a game-changer, but pushing ourselves to deconstruct the idea helps to ensure we’re moving forward with the best possible course of action.

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