Creativity is one of the most important skills you can possess. The word is casually thrown around to the point of being insignificant, but the ability to connect parallels and see things differently is crucial. For me, my creativity has been the crux to my survival. Or at least the advancements I’ve seen in my career. Creativity exercises are a great way to hone this skill.
Connecting disparate ideas and embracing the unusual sets us aside as employees, and also as humans.
No matter your profession, you are always facing new challenges. The tools are changing and the resources we have on hand are unimaginably vast. In a world where we can access anything at any time, or on the flip side, be accessed at any time, creativity is at its utmost importance.
Creativity is not limited to the humanities and the arts. Creativity can be found in math and science, programming and cooking, finance and athletics. I’d argue that the most successful people of any given profession show a huge capacity for creativity. From Mark Zuckerberg to Nikola Tesla, Sheryl Sandberg to Beyonce, the people creating and existing at the top of their field see the world differently. But creativity isn’t something they have and you don’t. Often we assume creativity is something you have or you don’t, but like anything, you can learn creativity and take part in creativity exercises. You can inspire yourself and change the way you think.
While it brings me the most joy, when creativity is stifled, it is a source of pain and angst. When I’m feeling drained or uninspired, I turn to creativity exercises to get back into the zone. Below are some creativity exercises I use. If you’re feeling stuck and uninspired, or just in need or a gentle push forward, try some of these creativity exercises for motivation. Inspire yourself and get unstuck.
Here are 47 creativity exercises to help get you thinking outside the ordinary and help you solve challenges and get creating.
47 Creativity Exercises
- Think outside the paperclip
This is one you’ve likely seen before, so let’s start with a classic. Get a paper and pen and set a timer for one minute or 90 seconds. Until the buzzer rings, write as many possible uses as you can for a paper clip or any object—pack of gum, rope, mirror, etc. The goal is to write continuously until your timer goes off, not worrying about the practicality of what you’re writing. Tally up your uses at the end. To start, you might only get a few. Try it again with another object and try to get more.
- Constructive dissatisfaction
Consider a problem, campaign, item or product (not your own, to start anyway) and list all possible ways of how it can be improved. Have you been seeing a commercial over and over that misses the mark? Think of why you don’t like it and how it could be rewritten to be better.
- Rebus puzzles
Ever since Mr. Bellamy put rebus puzzles on the board in my high school classroom, I’ve loved them. I look them up and make them up, often putting them on a whiteboard for my team at the office. Rebus puzzles are essentially little pictures, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase or saying. This website has several, and you can find them all over the internet. To get your creative juices flowing, print off a sheet of 10 rebus puzzles and work through them with no screen. If you’ve got some energy after, try drawing some of your own.
- Writing prompt
Go to dictionary.com to see what the word of the day is. Read the word and the definition and make sure you understand what it means. Write seven sentences using that word.
- Draw emotion
You can do this exercise with pencil crayons, or just a pencil or pen. Write the word of an emotion—like sadness, joy, excitement. Write the same word four times, “drawing” it differently each time.
- Observe and write
Write the numbers one through ten down the side of a piece of paper, leaving a line or two between each. Set a timer for three minutes and write ten things you’ve noticed today. Don’t overthink it, these sentences can be as simple as “It was still dark when my alarm clock went off this morning.”
- Make a mood board Though I’m a logophile, sometimes words aren’t as effective as visuals. Whatever you’re trying to work on, seek out a bunch of work you like, grab screenshots and put them in a Google Slides presentation, a Pinterest board, a Niice board or something similar. Pile all the shots you like together, covering all the whitespace. For example, I have been trying to make this website for ages, but often found my focus waning. I made this moodboard of other websites that inspire me. To get a little more direction, dissect the board after—what are the common themes? What do you like about each of these pictures?
Is there a consistent colour scheme?
- Learn something
Nothing can make you feel better than adding a skill to your repertoire, even if it’s not something directly relevant to your practice. Do a Photoshop tutorial, watch a how-to video on YouTube, look up a recipe, etc. Choose something you’re interested in but don’t focus on solving a particular problem.
- Go outside
And leave your phone at home. Walk away from your house for 10 or 20 minutes, then walk back and take different streets. Go to a park and grab a coffee. Strap on some cross country skis. Whatever, just go outside.
However you like, get some beads on your pretty little forehead! Nothing clears the mind and makes room for focus like getting a good sweat going. And there’s no creativity exercise than exercise! 😉
I know writing isn’t everyone’s jam, but putting pen to paper can inspire creativity. Don’t do this one on a computer — grab a paper and a few pens and a timer. Use the prompt “I remember” and write freely for four minutes. Don’t edit or scratch anything out.
Sure, this one may be a little overdone. Where can’t you find a colouring book? But it is soothing and a great way to let your mind drift while focusing with your motor cortex. I prefer pencil crayons, but use whatever you have handy. Throw on some lyric-free music and use lots of colours. If you don’t have your own colouring book, there are plenty of places to print beautiful pages for free.
Surely, I am the last person to provide advice on meditation. Sitting still and attempting a clear mind are not my strengths. But even noobs like me can experience creativity benefits from attempting a few moments of tranquility. Make yourself comfortable and set a timer for ten minutes. If there are sounds around you, put on some ambient sounds to help you from becoming distracted — crashing waves and rain storms are my go tos. Concentrate on your breathing and try to gently push away thoughts as they enter your mind. Because I find that nearly impossible, I do something a little different. I count a number each breath, up to ten. Breathe in, one. Breathe out, two. Whenever I recognize that I am distracted, I start over. This creativity exercise can help spur on creativity by not focusing on what you’re focused on!
Choose a word that has no repeating letters — magic, pickle, tonic. Close your eyes and begin thinking of as many words as you can that start with the first letter. When you stop thinking of words that begin with that letter, move onto the next. Don’t count your words, just let your mind wander and think of as many words as you can without straining yourself.
- Photo essay
Find a series of pictures that describes a recent day you had from start to finish. You can use photos you’ve taken or search some out on the internet. The day doesn’t have to be a special day, in fact it shouldn’t be. Take a regular Saturday and compile photos that portray what that day was like. Think of the things you did, like go for a run, eat brunch, meet a friend for coffee; and think of the way you felt. Try to portray both the doing and the feeling. If you’re so inclined, share your photo essay with someone and see what it means to them.
- Pack a prison bag
As a child, my biggest fear was going to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. I was a morbid child. This may have stemmed from having two parents who worked in the legal system. I have now had years to consider how I might pass my time if I were to wind up behind bars. Take a few minutes and pack a bag of things you’d want to have if you were going to be locked up for three months. No phones or computers. That’s right, I’m making the rules, so leave your electronics behind. Don’t let fear get the best of you for this creativity exercise, just think of things you’d like to have if you were to live in isolation.
- Spend seven minutes in silence and darkness
Put your phone away, and if you have, stick some ear plugs in your ears and put an eye mask on. Set your timer for seven minutes. During this time, you want to be as unstimulated as possible. You can’t look anything up or write anything down. When is the last time you let yourself be bored? Sometimes ideas strike when you’re dreadfully uninspired.
- Tying it together
Walk around your space and take pictures of six things. Look at them all and think of all the ways they are the same. What ties them together?
- Create a character sketch
Think of someone you’ve encountered lately, whether that’s a friend, someone you just met, a side character in a book, whatever. Write a character sketch about them, around a page. Who are they? Where did they come from? What is their past like? What is special about them? Are they hiding a dark secret?
- Plan a creative meal
You don’t have to make it, but plan a meal of items that you wouldn’t normally pair together, but that you think would complement each other nicely. Maybe Italian meets the middle east, with a pizza crust topped with chickpeas, tomatoes. tabbouleh, and falafel, topped with a spicy tzatziki.
Stretching releases…. something in the brain. I don’t know, but it’s good for you, especially if you spend a bunch of time hunched over your laptop trying to attach your shoulders to your ears. Stand up and spend five minutes stretching. Go from head to toe — pull your neck gently to each side and hold for 30 seconds, interlock your fingers behind your back and lift as high as you can, swing your arms from side to side, cross one leg over the other and reach for your toes, etc.
- Set a daily goal
Each morning, set a goal for the day. Write it on a piece of paper and take it with you. Look at it when you grab a coffee, during lunch, on your way to the grocery store. Before you go to bed, do everything you can to accomplish it, or if necessary, set a new goal for the next day. Feelings of confidence, productivity and success can inspire great creativity.
- Smell something different
German poet Friedrich Schiller found he worked best to the smell of rotting apples. While I hope for your sake that isn’t what you need, smells can inspire thought. Try boiling water on the stove, then adding cinnamon sticks and orange zest.
- Plan a trip
The best kind of planning is the kind that doesn’t have any logistics, right? Pick a foreign country you’d love to see and do some planning (finance is no object, of course): find a beautiful Airbnb or hotel to stay in, choose a restaurant you’d want to eat at, determine three things you’d do while there and research a few local bloggers you could follow for inspiration.
- Embrace unhappiness
Though I’m an eternal optimist, I often find good ideas come from dark places. Make a list of as many things as you can that make you unhappy or leave you unfulfilled. Choose one thing on the list and think of as many ways as possible to make it better. This creativity exercise can turn bad to good, pessimism to excitement.
- Talk to a stranger
This one has had me on the receiving end of a few weird looks, but it’s one of my favourites. When you’re out and about — coffee shop, bus stop, work — strike up a conversation with a stranger. If possible, try to navigate away from small talk to something more substantial. I like a would you rather opener, like “Would you rather have salt, pepper and garlic or every other spice for the rest of your life?” Though this can be awkward, people are usually too polite to brush you off entirely. And even if they do, it’s worth a laugh and an exit from your comfort zone.
- Write your name in circles
Write your name, or any other word, using small circles.
- Draw something
I am no artist, but drawing something is an exercise that can definitely inspire creativity. Use a pencil and don’t erase or judge, just draw something simple like a mug, flower, apple.
- Play a game of solitaire or clock
With a real deck of cards!
- Back alley walk and observation
Go for a walk through your back alley and observe what is there. What kind of garbage, graffiti, kids toys, people can you see?
- Sleep on it
Sometimes my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night, so I always have a notebook on my nightstand just in case. Think of a problem you’re trying to solve or a project you want to start. Write it on a piece of paper and put it under your pillow so you can literally sleep on it.
- Write a letter
Write a kind letter to someone in your life. Describe why you love them or a tough time they helped you through. Actually send it or, better yet, hand deliver it. This creativity exercise will make you feel more connected to another being.
Fill an entire page with swirls, circles and lines. If you need some ideas for this creativity exercise, try emulating these henna images.
For this creativity exercise, make a list of at least 20 things you’re grateful for.
- Alphabetical menu
Starting with the letter “a,” list a food that begins with each letter.
- Scrambled eggs
Get a piece of paper and a pencil and fill the page with drawings of eggs. Over easy, with smiley faces, whole, whatever.
- Visualize an emotion
Take an emotion that has been prevalent for you lately and collect a bunch of images and things that make you feel that emotion. Do this creativity exercise as a moodboard if you want, or even collect objects and colours from around your house.
- Shape transformation
Make a scribble or shape on a page. Now turn it into a picture. Good luck.
- Link association
Pick two things that are very different — stars and coffee, Mandela and spark plugs. Google the first thing and go to the first result. By clicking only on links from the page, see how many clicks it takes you to get to page about the second item.
- Chat with a stranger online
Remember when the internet first became a thing and we didn’t know what to do with it, so we went in chat rooms and talked to people in other places? Those places still exist! They’ve been warped by time, but they can still be fun. Go to a chat site, like chatroulette or Talkwithstranger, and find someone who isn’t just jerking off into their webcam. Ask them questions about a challenge you’re working on, or about anything. It’s an interesting creativity exercise to hear what a stranger thinks about issues close to your heart. This creativity exercise needs a warning: apparently every site has been turned into a porn sales tool. Hopefully the internet isn’t an illustration of the inner workings of the human brain.
- Write the letters of the alphabet backwards
Form every letter in the opposite way you normally would write it. If you want an extra challenge, do it with your non-dominant hand.
- Make a hot drink
You know the omnipotent stock image of a woman in a cozy sweater, holding a mug of tea with both hands? That could be you! Make a hot drink that takes some sort of ritual, even if that means tea. I like to make golden milk.
- Perfect your space
This creativity exercise is for all your work spaces. Whatever kind of work you do, it is essential you create an environment that inspires you. For this creativity exercise, perfect your workspace by tidying it, getting all your tools in place, setting the right lighting and music, and displaying books or pictures that inspire you.
This creativity exercise is a personal favourite of mine. Dance around your house to music that you love. If you need some direction, I love sweating to the Fitness Marshall.
- Favourite stories
Think of some of the stories you’ve read, watched or listened to that you love. Write down somewhere between three and seven. For each, write the plot in one sentence, and write the most prevalent emotion that comes to mind when you think of that story.
- Your parents at your age
Think of who your parents were when they were your age. Either write or vividly think of who they were, what they were doing and picture what their life was like.
- Call a friend
Give a call, not a text, to someone who inspires you. If the first person doesn’t pick up the phone, leave a voicemail and move onto the next. And if need be, the next and the next and the next. I’m guilty of avoiding phone calls sometimes, but nothing beats a good conversation with a good friend.
We all feel stuck, bored or uninspired sometimes. These creativity exercises are some of the things I do to jump to a new train of thought and ignite a spark of inspiration. If you were going to run a marathon, you’d start with shorter sprints, hills, jogs and other exercises. Creativity is no different — start with small creativity exercises and break the block as frequently as you need. Even if you’re not feeling blocked, set 15 minutes aside each day for some creativity exercises, or even try a creative facilitation session. Doing something outside or parallel to the challenge I’m working on often helps me look at the problem in a new light.
Does anyone comment on blogs? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and your creativity exercises in the comment section! If you’re a shy bear, send me an email — I’d love that too.