5 Minutes to a Supercharged Brainstorm

When a runner gets ready for a race, he doesn’t just stroll up to the start line and go. No. He stretches, he jogs a few laps, he gets limber. You can do the mental equivalent for brainstorming–a mental warm-up. By spending just a few minutes getting your brain charged up, you can boost your brainstorming results.

Here are my three favorite ways to warm up for a brainstorm, in five minutes or less.

Creative challenges
The first agency I worked at had a full-staff brainstorming meeting every Wednesday. A client or two with upcoming projects were put on the docket, the team was briefed by the account rep, and then we went wild. These sessions were a safe zone. No one balked at crazy ideas. We didn’t compete. We collaborated and built on each other’s creativity. They were a lot of fun. I have to say I’ve gotten a little nostalgic about those meetings.

I credit the heightened creativity during those sessions in large part to the warmup games we played. A team leader would present a creative challenge, and then we’d go for it. They were simple and completely unrelated to work. Sometimes they were quiet, individual activities; other times we were split into small teams. They were almost always timed.

The key with these exercises is that there’s no wrong answers.

They could be anything from creating a new creature from a set of toys to coaching a teammate through a drawing while blindfolded, to channeling your inner child by drawing with crayons.

When we were done, we shared our results, admired each others’ unique ideas, and had a laugh. More importantly, our creative juices were flowing and we kicked off our session with an overflow of positive energy.

There are many books and online sources for this kind of exercise. To get started, set a timer for a minute list as many ways to use a brick as you can in that timeframe.

Before starting your brainstorm, grab a pen and paper, set a timer for five minutes, and just write. Don’t let your hand stop moving on the page until the timer stops. Many people swear by the freewriting process and start every day with a freewriting session.

The BQF Inspiration Blog said it well: “The idea is that the process overcomes apathy, fear, hesitation and other blocks to creation and action.” (This blog has a nice breakdown of the basic rules of freewriting.)

Think of it as a brain dump to get distractions out of your head. Keep the topic of your brainstorm in mind as you write, but don’t force anything. Freewriting should be a no-pressure zone where you can let things out as they come to you without judgement.

When the timer dings, go back over what you wrote–you may be pleasantly surprised by what you wrote. Use it as a springboard for your brainstorm.

You don’t have to do any Gregorian chants–though motivator Danielle LaPorte has written on her blog that she sometimes pulls out scented candles and dims the lights to set the mood. But just like a cup of warm milk at bedtime can cue your body to wind down for sleep, setting a ritual for brainstorming can trigger your mind to get creative.

So play some music that gets your juices flowing, get your pencils sharpened just so, put on your lucky socks. Whatever puts you in the zone. I know it sounds a little loopy, but if you’re consistent with it, your brain will respond.

My morning routine involves Frosted Mini Wheats, five cups of coffee and pulling on my sweats (even though I’m going to work right after, I don’t put on my office clothes until I’m done with my morning creative time). Somehow, even though it takes me a few hours to be able to speak a cohesive sentence in the morning, when I sit down at my computer to write, I’m ready to go.

What are your favorite ways to get in the creative mood?


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