Increasing Creativity By Clearly Separating Your Input and Output Phases

I think a lot about creativity and how to maximize it, and one of my latest ideas has been to clearly define time you’re taking in ideas versus time you’re creating and exploring them.

Consuming news sources like Reddit, Hacker News, etc. is the worst kind of input, as it’s not deep exploration of a single idea, and it’s not you being creative. Instead, it’s a constant trickle of moderately interesting content that prevents you from both diving deeply into an input phase or creating something of your own.

I think the answer is to strictly limit that type of input phase, and, most importantly, be honest with yourself about what Reddit and Hacker News are. They are junk food for your creative body. They give you the sweetness you seek for as long as you keep consuming it, but when you’re done you just want a nap. You absolutely must recognize that this shallow type of input will destroy any hope of creative output.

So if you know you have 20 minutes to burn, and there’s no desire to be useful afterwards, absolutely spend some time with the information junk food. But don’t convince yourself that it’s high quality, because it isn’t.

Instead, use it to find deeper level input that you want to consume. In short, use it to discover something you put on a long-term development list. And then go into a defined input mode where you dive deeply into that topic. Take notes of thoughts you have that you’d like to explore while you’re deeply exploring.

Then, at a separate time, designated for just that, spend some time with your thoughts alone. Disconnect from all inputs other than the thought you are working to explore or write about. Consider starting with silence, or some sort of meditation, and proceed with nothing but your own creativity pushing you.

So, three things:

  1. Realize that casual reading of headlines and such is creatively destructive, and equate it to eating two big macs and a half gallon of cola

  2. Use Reddit/Hacker News type reading to discover real topics you want to dive deep on, and do that in a dedicated phase where you’re coming up with ideas to explore later

  3. Have a separate phase where you shut off all inputs and just explore a given, designated idea for that session. Write it out. Record yourself, whatever. Focus 100% on creativity, with no distractions.

In short: don’t muddy up your output with inputs, and don’t confuse casual headline browsing with deep study of a topic, as both will reduce your ability to create things yourself.

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