Keep Your Head in the Game: 7 ideas for keeping your mind on creative projects

After hearing the phrase “Keep Your Head in the Game” at a meeting, I spent the weekend thinking about what it meant to me. I suppose it’s probably a sports term, but the phrase reminded me how I’m sure that my subconscious mind can work on creative projects, event when my body can’t.

This list isn’t really about time or project management. It’s a list of some techniques that I use to try to “keep my head in the game” — to keep my brain working, thinking, and developing ideas for creative projects or problem-solving, even during times when I can’t physically work on them.  Using them, often later when I do get back to working in body and soul on that delayed project, I’m gifted some new ideas or insights that help move the project forward.

1. Walk around and look.

Even when you’re not working on a project, it helps to look at it frequently. I keep projects up on my design wall for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally walking by and looking at them from different viewpoints. This could apply whether you’re working on a painting, a graphic design, a sculpture, your garden, or part of your house you are wanting to improve.

Research shows that exercise and movement is good for the brain, and it’s hard to have new ideas when you just sit in one place or look at something from the same angle all the time.

Get up from your desk to look. Look for something that’s broken that you can fix later. Look for something ugly you can improve. Look for problems and what causes them. Look for surprises.

Or you could take a walk in your neighborhood or down a street and just look for things are that beautiful, wonderful, or noteworthy. Because sometimes something totally unrelated to your project will inspire you to add a new element to your project, something you didn’t plan or expect, but that can make the project better and uniquely yours.

2. Make notes or sketches.

While you’re walking around looking at stuff, it’s good to take notes in a notebook, in your day planner, in your moleskine, on a napkin, on your mobile phone. My notes are pretty scribbly, and sometimes they are just doodle drawings. But I can look back at a doodle drawing and instantly remember the time and place I did, who was there, and what I was thinking at the time.

Later when you need material for  your blog post, action plan, or turning a sketch into a final drawing or work of art, those notes or doodle drawings are invaluable.

3. Take photos – lots of them.

Photos help record things as they are, so taking photos over time and studying them can help you to see how there have been changes in places/projects you want to effect. Photos help you to see details that you’ve forgotten, or to see things are they really are, not just how you remember them. A series of photos over time can help you see if you are improving something, or if you have made a mistake, at what stage to go back and re-direct.

I organize my photos in different ways for different projects using Flickr, Aperture, and iPhoto. Other good possibilities to collect and save photos according to projects or themes are Picassa, Pininterest, Tumbler, and Instagram.

4. Use mobile devices.

Mobile devices such as smart phones, pocket cameras, iPads and tablets are great for quickly recording ideas or notes on the go.

A main point here is to spend some time when in a relaxed environment learning to use the device, so that when you want to really want to use an app or tool, you are ready. If you wait until a high-stress situation when your project depends on it, it will be difficult to both learn how to use it and get the results you hope to achieve.

When I’m learning or considering using a new device or app, I imagine what for what situations it would be useful or fun to use — and then practice, play, experiment!

The other important point about mobile devices is to be sure you can get your information out of the device. Smart phones and iPads have lots of apps that allow you to draw or edit photos. Just make sure you can email them, sync them, or upload them to your Flickr, Tumbler, Blog, iCloud, Dropbox, or Facebook account. Or know that you can download them to your computer hard drive to study or print them out on paper.

Because many of the apps I use are drawing, art or photo-related, it’s a big part of my criteria what photo resolution or what drawing file format that app will be able to export so I can use it later on another platform.

5. Build a bridge.

This is a technique that I learned from Twyla Tharp’s most excellent book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, one of my all-time favorites. The idea is that large creative projects cannot be done in one sitting or connected time period. So when you are preparing to end a work session or work day and you will not be able to finish, don’t work until you are dog-tired and out of ideas. Stop a little before, at a point where you can see the next immediate step.

Then when you come back to the project the next day or next week, you know exactly where to pick up and getting working again. You’ve built a bridge for yourself, so that you can move into the next work session without facing a writer’s or artist’s block.

6. Keep the project open.

If you have the space, it’s very nice to be able to leave a project open and ready to work in a different room or different part of your desk. I like to do this because for me, out of sight is out of mind. I need those visual cues to keep my brain working on something. A visual cue can also be small, like leaving my sketchbook open to a page I want to remember or small sketch on a post-it.

7. The brain is the best mobile computer, use it.

Back to using mobile devices, we’ve got the best one with us all the time. The brain is the best mobile computer ever!

There are precious minutes everyday, when we’re stuck somewhere, trapped by circumstances or waiting for something. These are great times to work on creative projects in your mind or to stretch your creative mind, play with it, and experiment. Write a poem in the shower.  Make up a joke during a meeting. Imagine a cartoon while you’re stuck in traffic. Imagine taking a photo at the post office. Write a one-act play in the grocery check-out line…


If you have any more tips for Keeping Your Head in the Game, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear them!



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