How to have ideas at your desk

James Allen
Jul 2, 2013 · 5 min read

Your desk is one of the worst places to get creative. It’s full of distractions and routines. That’s why we have our best ideas in the shower, or in the pub, or doing the ironing - ideas like to come to us when we’re doing something else. But sometimes that approach isn’t practical, and you need an idea right here, right now. This post includes creative thinking techniques to summon original ideas quickly, even in the most unsuitable location - at your desk.

Watch the video here and read the post below.

Turn off your email

No, not just on your computer. Turn off your phone, your twitter account, close your Facebook page, your Skype. And leave them turned off. Spend the first few minutes getting your head into the facts of what you are doing. By reacquainting yourself with the task at hand in the few moments after you have disconnected your distractions, you are priming your mind for real, uninterrupted thinking.

With no distractions to flick between and some dedicated time on your project, you can think and visualise clearly. Give your brain a chance to immerse itself rather than plucking it back from its depths by reading unrelated status updates, comments, emails or news items.

Sound simple? Try it for two hours, without cheating. Write an out of office if you’re worried about missing something. People will understand your need for creative focus.

Tune in, tune out

Put some headphones on. You don’t even need to listen to music if you don’t want to. The simple act of sitting at your desk will prevent people from interrupting you.

If you do want music, think hard about what music. Not the same old playlist you have been commuting to, showering to, running to. Try something you haven’t heard in a while or a completely new album. Better still, try something you wouldn’t normally listen to. Be aware of the calming or energising effect the tunes or lyrics are having and change your track accordingly.

Drink stimulation

If you’re a coffee drinker, it won’t surprise you to hear that a shot of caffeine will perk you up. In fact, it’s even more true if you’re not a coffee drinker. Either way, drink a stimulating drink: ice cold latte, double espresso, something to give you a buzz. If you wouldn’t go near the stuff, try a cold fizzy drink or something else to spark up your senses. Bringing a bit of a boost to yourself physically will have a knock on effect mentally. If it’s appropriate, have a beer or other alcoholic drink. The relaxing impact can free your thoughts even if only imbibing a little bit – the Friday feeling it creates or the sense of rebellion can help you think differently.

Switch to manual

Do you write and edit as you go? Do you list ideas and scrap them all after five minutes? This is self-defeating and you will be making yourself very aware of your ‘failed’ attempts. Switch to handwriting, with a pen, without crossing out or editing. This way, it’s harder to delete or forget early ideas and you can track back to them if some other inspiration appears that can take them forward.

Push boundaries

Let an idea come naturally and then imagine it bigger, brighter, louder, upside down, in another town, country or dimension. Don’t limit yourself – this can be a quick way to break out of old patterns.

Another way to do this is set your problem within the context of a different industry and imagine how that industry, with its different sets of specialists and experts, would tackle it. For example, if it’s a customer service issue, think how a utilities company could better tackle it. Or the same problem posed to your favourite restaurant, or to the flight attendants on that really scary journey you made. Taking the issue and shining a different context on it can make it come to life in a much more useful way.

Take a component or an idea and exaggerate or distort it. What would happen if it was twice as big / fast / expensive? What would we do if we had twice as much time? What if the market was ten times smaller?

Get some perspective

Instead of seeing things from your point of view, borrow someone else’s perspective. Whether it’s another generation, culture, a group of sports or music fans, see how their imagined view of things changes the way you look at the task at hand.

Use analogies: for example an anglepoise lamp is like a human arm, in that it can bend and move to suit its space or purpose, or a jumbo jet is like an albatross, with its big wingspan and elegant, graceful movements.

Out of Nowhere

Make some unrelated links to what you’re dealing with. Imagine how your issue or problem would be impacted by a sudden snowstorm. Can you function the same or do you need to make changes? If you have to handle things differently, you will be forced to see what your priorities are and that can help solve your idea rut. Also, try and remove any context to see if it makes you think any differently about things.

Role play

Creativity flows more freely when you imagine someone else dealing with an issue. Try and think of some personalities or icons to take inspiration from. Be creative with who you choose. What would Business Jesus do when faced with your problem? What if you were a superhero, and could use super strength, speed, or x-ray vision?

Make it a gift

Sometimes we produce our best work or try our hardest when we are making something as a gift for someone. Try and imagine the gratitude and satisfaction experienced by your client or customer when they know they’ve received something that has been lovingly crafted by your fair hands!

Inside the box

You’ll probably be constrained already, by the limited time available to have your idea, but it can be beneficial to introduce some other constraints to stimulate creativity. Constraints can also be form-based – for instance poetry has many constraints: words should rhyme, sentences should have so many syllables etc. Or think about Twitter, with its in-built constraint of 140 characters per tweet. Setting constraints helps to focus thinking – proving that sometimes thinking inside the box can be helpful!

Mash it up

Finally, it’s often productive to create a mash-up of all these techniques to offer a different twist – taking your ideas from one technique and then applying another. Combining existing ideas is one of the most common methods of creating new ideas. As Steve Jobs famously said: “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, help me decide what to write next:

Creative Huddle

Helping people learn how to think and work creatively. See more at

James Allen

Written by

Helping people and businesses have more ideas with @creative_huddle. Husband to @lipbalmy, daddy to Viva & Zachary.

Creative Huddle

Helping people learn how to think and work creatively. See more at