It's easy to feel like open spaces and blue skies are required to boost creativity. And they certainly can. But the real world offers few opportunities for that, thanks to time, resource and other factors. That's why it's important to learn how to use constraints to fuel creativity.

I use constraints two ways:

1. Time constraints to support creativity

When I've got a problem to solve or am stuck in my writing, I'll often set a time for 25 minutes with a goal of seeing how far I can get with idea generation or content creation. The only rules are to work continuously until the bell rings. If I find my groove, another 25 goes on the clock. If I'm still struggling, I grab a little blue sky (or gray) by going outside for a quick break to reset. Then I'm back to the clock. I like this approach because even if it takes a couple of reps to get the creative juices flowing, I'm not thrashing around aimlessly for hours or avoiding the work altogether.

2. Intellectual constraints to drive creative thinking

A laptop and notebook illustrating a post on memos from writing coach Margot Lester of The Word Factory

A blank page can be freeing or freezing. When I'm struggling with a problem, especially a content issue, I avoid blank-page paralysis with a handful of frameworks that include prompts and restrict space. I often write about the People-Information-Goals(c) and how I use it to plan projects. A hidden value to the worksheet is that it's got finite spaces for my thinking. I usually work through it by hand on paper, which slows my brain down just enough to process more effectively. When I do use it on my computer, I work in a PDF, again because it forces concision. The combination of the directed questions and the limited space creates a fertile environment for clear thinking and creation.

Try these tactics next time you need a shot of creativity or to get unstuck.

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