Do you ever get stuck? I know I do. Some days I have a lot of ideas but no direction and sometimes I know exactly where I’d like to be but I have absolutely no idea how to get there. Either way, the end result is the same: I feel stuck and frustrated.
Luckily, there is a simple solution: brainstorming is pretty much the most effective way to get you out of a rut and help you move forward. For years now, my time spent in the rut has been reduced significantly by applying some of the greatest and most productive brainstorming methods.
The 5 Most Effective Brainstorming Methods
Mind mapping is a classic brainstorming technique that uses visual diagrams to connect relating ideas. It is a popular tool and is immensely useful in project planning or brain storming. By using this simple technique you get to use a whole range of skills that – words, image, number, logic, colour, design – that make various areas of your brain work. It can help you think clearly and improve performance.
How it works
- Get a piece of people or open a new project on an online doc or mind mapping app such as Mindomo
- Write a goal or problem in the centre of the sheet or board
- Draw lines from the key topic and brand them in sub topics
- Create sub-ideas that spring from these sub-topics. Some would like to imagine this as a tree of ideas.
- Connect your sub-ideas to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels. As your brain works by association, it does like to likes to link things together. This will help you to understand and remember your ideas more easily.
- Use colours, images and curves or bubbles – it won’t only make the mind map look better, it’ll also help your brain remember more and keep it occupied.
Check out how Tim Ferris did his mind map for his bestseller, the 4 hour workweek on Mindmomo.
2. Blind Writing
When the well-known marketing guru, successful author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin was asked how to write he simply said:
“Start writing. Write poorly until it’s not bad anymore“.
This way of dealing with writer’s block or any other situation when you feel stuck is pretty much the essence of blind writing. Sit down with a sheet of paper, specific ideas notepad or on an online document and start writing. Write down everything that comes to your mind, even if all you can write is “I can’t think of anything to write”. Do it for at least 10 minutes, just keep writing, don’t stop. Come up with all kinds of things if you need to, don’t strive for perfection or try to force yourself to come up with great ideas. All you need to do is to jump-start the creative problem-solving part of your brain.
An alternative way of doing this brainstorming method is to set the amount of ideas instead of the time limit. Write down 101 ideas, no matter how long it takes. Don’t judge the ideas as you write them, be totally neutral towards them until the very end. By the end of this exercise, you will have at least one idea that you can start working with, even if it’s not a winner idea, it can trigger your brain to associate similar ideas.
3. Dream board or vision board
A vision board or dream board is a visual collection of imagery, quotes, sentiments of key goals you want to achieve. It should include not only all the things you want but also how you want to feel. In fact, try to focus on the latter, it’ll help you really connect to these goals emotionally. Believe it or not, this brainstorming technique does an incredible job in clarifying goals and helps you focus on them. Olympic athletes have been using this for a long time and there’s even scientific evidence to back it up.
How to do it:
- Write up your goals and then break them down into manageable steps
- You can have separate boards for all main goals or one main board including all your goals – it is up to you how you want to separate it
- Find and upload images which represent your goals
- Include statements or quotes that resonate with you strongly. Use phrases, words or affirmations that empower you.
- Associate your goals with positive feelings and emotions and find pictures that represent them.
- You can use a cork notice board and pin photos and hand written notes. If you prefer to do this online, you can use Pinterest – there are some online tools out there but frankly, you won’t find anything better than Pinterest, especially since they came up with the secret board function which allows you to set up private boards.
- If you are a pro and want to use a photo editing tool like In Design or Photoshop for this then you can create a high resolution image and save it on your computer desktop. If all of that is difficult or time consuming and you are using something simple like Pinterest you can still do something similar – just take a screenshot and save that image. Setting this as your home page will mean viewing your board every day. Alternatively, you can print your goals and frame it or pin it on your fridge or a board.
4. Reverse brainstorming
This is a very good one, a personal favourite of mine. It is a very simple method that is helpful in situations when it is difficult to identify solutions to the problem directly.
Consider what most people would assume or do in your situation, and then think of ways to do the exact opposite. For example, if you have a certain goal such as changing a career you may ask the question – How could I prevent this goal from happening? How could I not become a full time author by any means? What would I do to completely prevent this career change from happening?
Steps to use this technique:
- Identify and clarify the problem, challenge or goal and write it down.
- Reverse the challenge or goal by asking, “How could I not overcome this challenge but perhaps make it worse?” and “How could I not achieve this goal by any means?”
- Actually brainstorm the reversed challenge or goal to generate reverse solution ideas. It may feel strange at first but just write down everything that comes to your mind, capture all ideas without any judgement.
- Once you have all the ideas you could think of to solve the reverse challenge now see if any of these ideas could work if you reversed them. Can you see a potential solution?
My personal example:
Challenge: I would like to do less hours on my full time job but remain effective. Simply put, I’d like to increase my productivity by working smart and working less.
Reverse challenge: How could I possibly work more and become less productive?
- Do every small task myself, especially those that are time consuming and I could easily outsource.
- Get lost in emails for the most productive time of the day.
- Arrange and accept lots of meetings without a clear agenda.
- Never ever ask for clarification on tasks but spend loads of time figuring out what the exact task at hand is. If I can’t, I should always just give up and forget about it and act surprised when I get asked about it.
- Don’t use a project management software and get confused with deadlines and get totally overwhelmed by multiple projects.
- Say yes to everything without thinking through how much time each task takes.
- Spend a significant amount of your time on office politics and small talk with colleagues.
- Take all time-wasting sales calls and allow myself to get distracted by mobile app notifications.
Now back to the original challenge – would any of the reverse version of these ideas help me to achieve my goal? Yep, every single one of them.
Ta-da, easy solution and you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.
5. Fill the gap
So you know where you want to be. Good. You know where you are now. Great. Do you know how to get where you want to be from where you are now? Well yeah, that’s usually the issue. Remember when you plan a your journey on CityMapper or Google Maps. It’ll give you the method of transport and the necessary steps in between. That’s exactly what you need to do – write down the necessary steps between A (you current place) to B (your goal). Write down every small step in between. Do brainstorming like a pro.
My personal example:
My goal: I would like to travel the world for a year.
Step no. 1: How much would it cost?
- Determine where you’d go – do a travel plan on Google Maps
- Search for tickets on SkyScanner and write down every single item on an excel sheet
- Research cost of accommodation and food in every single country on your destination list
- Add extra items such as excursions and admin cost (visa, jabs, other unforeseeable costs)
Step no 2: How will I get the money?
- How much money do I have now?
- How much can I save?
- Calculate personal outcome and income on sheet.
- Could I have a second job or other way of increasing my income?
- How long it takes to have the money?
Step no 3: What would happen to my place/relationship/animal/family?
- Can I rent out my place?
- Would my relationship suffer?
- Could I take my animal with me?
This is just a quick and example but you get the idea. Put down everything in writing and by the end of this exercise, you’ll not only find clarity but you’ll have a clear action plan.
+1 Figuring method – What would Brian Boitano do?
If you’re really feel stuck and nothing else works, you can give this brainstorming technique. If you’ve seen South Park – Bigger, Longer, Uncut movie, you’ll know this – the main characters brainstorm what a famous ice skater would do in their semi-apocalyptic and seriously messed up situation. Now similarly to Kyle, Eric and Stan you can think about a famous historical figure or someone you look up to (or someone who is successful at your field of work) and try to imagine what they’d do in your situation. Would they just go ahead and do that thing that you’ve been putting off? Would they organise that meeting that you dread? Would they quit this job and travel the world? What would Brian Boitano do? Trying to put yourself in someone else’s (especially a successful person’s) shoes can help you see things from a different perspective.
If you need inspiration, watch the clip from the film (warning, adult content)
Share it in the comments.