5 Creative exercises to help refresh your mind and overcome creative block.
Remember as a child, you could play and use your imagination for hours? You could envision whole worlds with exciting characters, intricate plots, and endless adventures and story-lines. In our little worlds back then, so much joy came from using our imaginations – before deadlines, bills, and the stress of adulthood stymied our way of thinking.
And now in our adulthood where creativity is lucky enough to be our job, sometimes it feels like it is sacrificed in order to churn out the volume of projects required for the fast-pace of business. This inevitably has us questioning if we’ve lost our edge, or that maybe burn-out is afoot. Well take a deep breath and get back to your inner child with these 5 creative exercises to shake your creativity loose and overcome creative block:
#1: Thirty Circles Exercise
Time: 3 minutes
Supplies: Pen and a piece of paper with 30 blank circles (You can download this template) and a timer.
This test was originally developed in the 1960’s by Stanford University creativity researcher, Bob McKim, and gained even more popularity when featured on a TED Talk by Tim Brown. The goal is to balance fluency and flexibility with your ideas. This exercise is great to use as a jumpstart to an ideation session, or even a way to break the ice with a group.
Start with a blank piece of paper and draw thirty blank circles on it, or download this template. Turn as many of the blank circles into recognizable objects in three minutes.
#2: Binaural Beats Doodling
Time: Unlimited (Usually around 5-10 minutes)
Supplies: Pen and a piece of paper with 30 blank circles (You can download this template), headphones, and a phone with the Youtube app.
Inspired by “Thirty Circles”, this exercise focuses less on producing ideas quickly, but rather leveraging binaural beats to help relax and get you into a creative flow state. Binaural beats are an auditory illusion that results when you hear two tones, one in each ear, that are slightly different in frequency. The brain then perceives a third tone based on the difference between those two frequencies, aligning with your brain waves. Binaural beats in the Gamma Frequency (higher frequency beats) show promise in helping with increased flexibility and creative thinking.
Search “binaural beats” in Youtube and bring up your favorite option. I personally like this option. Start with a blank piece of paper and draw thirty blank circles on it, or download this template. Before you begin drawing, think of an emotion (i.e. love, empathy, amazement, etc). Then start drawing within each circle anything you feel represents that emotion. The circles could be recognizable objects, or just doodles or mandalas. There is no time limit. The purpose of the exercise really is just to lower your anxiety, eliminate distractions for a short while, and get into a creative flow state.
#3: 30 Textures Challenge
Time: Throughout one day
Supplies: A camera or a smartphone with a camera
This exercise helps us to recognize the art hiding in plain sight all around us.
With a camera handy throughout the day, take at least 30 photos of different textures. Notice the different shapes, textures and patterns in your daily life. From the grain of wood on your desk, the rain drops running down your window, the rust on the side of your work building – all of these can be really interesting options. Think about how the lighting, perspective, and angle change the different feelings the photo evokes. Does the pattern that the chandelier produces feel heavenly? Does the angle you used to take the photo of your plant’s leaf seem infinite? Get creative, and you’ll start seeing the beauty hiding in everything around you.
As a bonus, make this a team exercise. At the start of your team meeting or zoom call, have each one of your team members submit their favorite picture they’ve taken and explain why. This is a great team exercise to both loosen everyone up and overcome creative block.
#4: Three Word Story
Time: Unlimited (Usually 5-10 minutes)
Supplies: Two or more people, and a whiteboard with markers, or pen and paper.
Sometimes working in marketing can feel like you’re in a constant hamster wheel of having to churn out ideas. I personally love this exercise for the simple fact that it shakes off the stress and sometimes, gets me full-on belly laughing.
Each person participating in this exercise takes a turn writing a story, three words at a time. For instance, the first person could start off with something like “Three little elves” and the second person continues the story with three more words, and so on.
This is also a great conference-call friendly team building exercise. Now that a lot of teams are virtual, cultivating fun situations that usually happen organically when people are on-site is essential to maintaining an energized team atmosphere.
#5: Customer Empathy Map
Time: This depends on how deeply you dive into this exercise. A quick version could take 30 minutes.
Supplies: A white board with either whiteboard markers or sticky notes. Alternately you can download this free Empathy Map and Buyer Persona PowerPoint template.
Customer empathy mapping is widely used among User Experience (UX) Design professionals, helping them to lay the groundwork for a buyer’s online experience. In UX circles, this exercise can be a very involved process, incorporating tons of customer research, user interviews, and qualitative surveys. For the purposes of this creative exercise however, we will use a paired down version.
If you are in the ideation process for a customer rewards program, an elegant customer onboarding process, or even just stuck trying to come up with design concepts for a particular customer archetype – I highly recommend this exercise.
Using some basic knowledge of your customer demographics, decide on a customer persona/archetype. What is their name? Where do they live? What is their job and income? Where do they hang out and what are their hobbies? Likes and dislikes? Then using a whiteboard or the template PowerPoint file linked above, fill out what your customer persona says, thinks, does, feels, and lastly what their goals are.
This process helps to give us meaningful insights into what drives our customers.
Whether you’re a team that’s looking to clear your creative palette before the brainstorming process, or in the throws of a maddening creative block, creative exercises can help us set the creative reset button. Did you find the exercises listed in this article helpful? What are your favorite techniques for refreshing your creativity to overcome creative block? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!