How to stay creative during high-stress times

We’re told that 90% of startups fail within the first 5 years, but what can we do to increase our chances of success? If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that entrepreneurs must always be ready to pivot. But staying creative – especially during high-stress periods – isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. So what can we do to keep ourselves inspired and ready to generate fresh ideas on a regular basis?

The secret, it turns out, is making sure you build inspiration into your day-to-day life, so that your creativity doesn’t run dry. It’s easier to maintain a habit rather than build a new one from scratch, so let’s examine some of the activities we can build into our schedules on a daily and weekly basis.

Regular check-ins
Whether you’re trying to come up with ideas to keep your team motivated, or looking to excite customers with a new product line, regular feedback is key. During high-stress times – fighting for business survival during a pandemic being a clear example – it’s easy to get distracted by external factors, or caught up in circular conversations with senior management. Instead, turn to your target audience for ideas and inspiration. Consider quarterly, monthly and weekly checkins with your teams, gathering feedback and suggestions for improvement. Often, employees and customers provide the best ideas, which isn’t so surprising given they’re our target audience. If your business is active on social media, make use of in-built features for gathering feedback, like Instagram’s polls, quizzes and question sticker function. It might seem basic, but you can garner extensive customer ideas in real-time to guide business decisions like new product names, colours and features.

Free up headspace
With so much going on, we can find ourselves going for weeks at a time without a technology-free moment. We watch Netflix to unwind in the evenings, and watch Masterclasses on weekends. Even on walks, we’re speaking on the phone or listening to a podcast. Try to spend some time on a weekly – or preferably daily – basis without distractions at hand. Go for a walk, and sit on a bench without a book or phone. This newfound empty headspace will allow new ideas to form, providing your brain the opportunities to work through problems and find solutions, ideas, and bursts of creative energy.

Startup exercises
A hallmark of the startup world is a need to constantly generate new ideas to move companies forward. In a culture of lean methodology, startups are always looking to test new ideas and features that could turn them into the next billion-dollar company. To generate some quick-fire ideas for your business, try out this simple exercise adapted from startup methodology.

20 in 10
This exercise can be completed in groups or individually. First, decide the reason why you want to generate ideas: is it for your personal brand? A new product name? Is it possible launch events? Then, set a timer for 10 minutes. Write down 20 ideas, spending 30 seconds on each. If you get stuck and can’t think of anything, write whatever comes to mid and move in. The goal here isn’t to come up with 20 perfect ideas – it’s far more likely that only 5 of your 20 ideas are usable. But that’s not the point; what we’re trying to do here is remove restrictions and the limits we tend to subconsciously put on our creativity. This is a judgement-free zone, and you’re likely to be surprised by the ideas that come to mind when your brain is put under a time pressure.

Seek external inspiration
It’s easy to get caught up in work, work, work. If you find yourself always reaching for business books and work-related TED Talks on YouTube, try exploring a new theme for a change. The same goes for social media: the idea of ‘curating your timeline’ is gaining traction thanks to the tech-related burnout we’re experiencing after over a year indoors. Go though the accounts you follow on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, and get rid of those that don’t inspire you. Read novels, listen to a new type of music, or watch a documentary about a topic completely removed from your work. When the world is open again, browse bookstores and visit galleries and museums.

New ideas can spring out of nowhere – as long as they have the chance to form. It may be folklore, but some of the greatest inventions in history have appeared in a spur of the moment. Even if the time’s not quite right when you come up with your ideas, make sure to jot them down somewhere safe. You never know when you might be in a position to explore it further with the benefit of time.

Written by Phoebe Dodds
Founder of BURO155