09/03/2013 01:11 pm ET | Updated Nov 03, 2013

7 Quirky Ways to Find Inspiration on a Deadline

One of the great struggles of any creative profession is coming up with an ingenious and original idea in a timely manner. Lightning strikes of inspiration are often few and far between, which makes it hard to convince people to give you money for your ideas. How to organically draw inspiration and still produce good work on a regular basis?

This is something I've been struggling with for a long time, which is why whenever I run across an unusual article or anecdote from an artist, I save it in a Google doc in hopes that when I need inspiration, I can take note from one of the greats and produce an article on time. So, without further ado, I provide here my ongoing list of possible ways to cultivate inspiration when on a time crunch. As to whether or not they work, you'll have to decide for yourself...

1. Keep deadlines unrealistically tight, and then forget about them.

Say you've got to come up with an unconventional solution to a problem, or even a story idea for a new article. Ben Kaufman of Quirky says that the best way to come up with a great idea is to put an unrealistic deadline on yourself, and then to forget about it. Once you know you have something to accomplish in a very short period of time, your brain will constantly be working on it, whether you're aware of it or not. Take a bath, read a book, go grocery shopping; when you're least expecting it, you will have your answer. It's often when you forget about your problems that you find your best ideas.

2. Caffeine is a godsend.

Fairly common knowledge, but worth repeating. If your thoughts are clogged, a venti iced coffee and some good music have a magical way of untangling them. As James Hamblin of The Atlantic says, "Using caffeine regularly is not indicative of moral weakness. Idleness and willfully unrealized potential, though, are."

3. Put a mirror in your work space.

I first put a mirror above my desk when I realized that my noise-cancelling ear buds prevented me from hearing approaching coworkers (and resulted in quite a few awkward encounters). My new mirror gave me sight to the world behind me, but it also gave me something unexpected: self-reflection, which made me work harder at my job. Rather than being left to my own devices in my cube, the mirror introduced a new level of awareness, as if I were being watched (but much less creepy, since it was just me). Studies on the psychological effects of mirrors reveal that, "A byproduct of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving." Mirrors, who knew?

4. In fact, just deck out your workspace.

Mood lighting, plants, inspirational quotes... whenever I'm feeling discouraged with a project, having little totems nearby cheer me up and give me a tiny boost. My latest obsession is the Himalayan Salt Lamp, which supposedly releases negative ions into your workspace to create a calming atmosphere, not unlike the air after a thunderstorm (also high in negative ions). The negative ions help counteract the positive ions released by electronics, so putting one near your computer is best. I can't speak definitively on whether or not it works, but it does make me feel more relaxed at work (and better able to focus as a result).

5. Maintain a strict schedule.

Before discounting this one completely (if anyone hates schedules, it's creative people), consider the brilliant author Haruki Murakami, who writes incredibly complex and surreal fantasy novels like 1Q84. According to the writer Tad Crawford, Murakami wakes up each day at 4 a.m., writes for five or six hours, goes running or listens to music, and then goes back to sleep at 9 p.m. Without the need to think about when to wake up, when to eat lunch, or what activities in which to partake, Murakami lulls himself into a state where he can think freely. Crawford writes, "I believe these mesmerizing fantasies offer a tonic to society by presenting a way into the life of the soul that transcends the limits imposed by ordinary reality." While this is difficult to maintain, trying to adhere to a strict schedule might be freeing for a time, and allow you to create in unexpected ways.

6. Invest in ergonomics.

Pay attention to how you're working: Are you sitting on your bed, hunched over a laptop? You'll work better sitting at a desk with a true chair, where you're less likely to experience pain and fatigue due to bad posture. You can even do one better by investing in an ergonomic chair--after working at my desk with a hard chair for months, I decided to try a kneeling chair and found that I was more focused on my work and less on my extremities falling asleep.

7. Beware of Dual-Task Interference.

Multitasking is actually counter-productive, according to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. He writes of a study that shows that doing two tasks at once actually takes twice as long and can reduce your cognitive abilities from "that of a Harvard MBA to that of an 8-year-old." Forcing yourself to think about two different tasks results in significant mental exhaustion and poor work output, so if you're smart, you'll learn to focus on one assignment at a time rather than spreading yourself too thin.

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