This month, Jurgen explores how you can tame your big idea, reveals some surprising new findings that could change your view on when you are at your most creative, suggests some unusual ideas for presents and stands up for introverts in an increasingly noisy world.
1: How to tame your big idea
Do you have a big idea but find it daunting to get started? That was the experience of Ann Clyne, composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, when asked to write a 20-minute work. She told Chicago Classical Review, "It's a little overwhelming because you can do anything. The only limit really is your imagination."
Her project is "Night Ferry," based on the epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the life and music of Schubert. To make its creation more manageable she broke it down into seven three-minute segments, and first painted some images that would inspire each segment of the music.
ACTION: If you've put off starting a project because it seems too big, how can you break it down into pieces? Would it help you to approach it through a different sensory system? For instance, if it's a story, could you find music that could be a sound track to inspire you? If it's painting, could your starting point be a poem?
2: Surprising research about when you are most creative
If you're an early riser you probably think the morning is when you're most creative, while night owls believe they'll have their best ideas in the wee small hours of the morning. It seems logical, but recent research reported in the journal Thinking & Reasoning suggests otherwise.
A study of 428 students asked to solve both analytic and insight problems suggests that you will be most creative at what you consider non-optimal times. The reason may be that your brain, being a bit tired, will be less effective at keeping out distracting information-which sometimes is what you need in order to have an insight.
ACTION: Experiment for a week with doing your creative activities in the evening if you're a morning person, and vice-versa, to see whether this works for you.
3: In defense of introverts
A new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, argues that shyness and introversion are two different things. Introverts are people who thrive in lower-stimulation environments and when they have time to be alone. They prefer one-to-one social occasions rather than big parties. Extroverts, on the other hand, crave more stimulation and love being in a group.
The book's author, Susan Cain, points out that these days we seem to favor extroverts more than ever, as shown by the popularity of personality-based reality shows and even the layout of most offices, which are set up for maximum group interaction.
However, recent research has shown that individual brainstorming, for instance, usually yields better results than that done in a group. It would be a mistake to sideline introverts or to lose their valuable contributions because other voices are louder.
ACTION: If you are an introvert, you may need to make a point of securing time every day for yourself. Society isn't making this easy. If you work in an open-plan office, figure out how to spend a bit of time in a more private environment-an unused conference room, for instance. Don't feel bad or apologize for being an introvert, it can be a strength!
4: This month's productivity tool: Remember the Milk
If you've been looking for a to-do application but don't want anything that's going to have a steep learning curve or distract you with too many bells and whistles, try Remember the Milk.
This app is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android and also Gmail, Google calendar, Twtter, and BlackBerry. You list the tasks and indicate their status and category, such as work, personal, study, and sent (for tasks you send to somebody else to do). You can also set reminders for the day and time of a task or meeting, and get them via SMS, email, Skype and other systems.
There's a free version and a Pro version which gives you unlimited auto-synching across multiple devices. The Pro version costs $24.99 per year, or you can try it out at the monthly rate of $2.99. The getting started section is kind of hidden, but you can go to it directly here.
ACTION: If this sounds like it could be useful, consider signing up for just a month at first to see whether you actually continue using it. (Disclosure: I'm not on a commission with any tools I suggest, unless I specify otherwise.)
5: Three great presents for any time
Around this time, all the ads are about stuff to buy for the special person in your life for Valentine's Day, but here are three ideas for no-cost or low-cost presents you can give to your significant other or a good friend.
Music: Remember mix tapes? These days it'll probably be an mp3 rather than a cassette, but the principle is the same. Want to say 'thank you' in a special way? Create a song collection that includes "Thank You for Being A Friend," songs called "Thank You" by Led Zeppelin, Dido, Alanis Morisette, and Keith Urban, and "I Thank You" by Sam and Dave.
A photo album: Again, these days your starting point probably will be the digital photos on your computer, which make it easy to create a printed photo album. There are many services that create nicely bound paperback or hardcover books of photos but if you have a reasonably good printer you can do it yourself for less.
A vacation weekend at home: If you're like me, the only time you go see the attractions of your home city is when you have visitors. Try pretending to be tourists in your home town for a weekend? Pick local attractions for which you normally wouldn't make time-maybe a gallery, a museum, a park, whatever catches your fancy. Turn off the phone-you're away on vacation!
ACTION: If there's somebody in your life who deserves a reward for being your friend, partner, or spouse, pick one of these or make up your own and don't wait for a holiday.
6: And a quote to consider
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery