The Original Creativity Training Tracker by Nick Skillicorn
First and foremost, as the editor and founder of Idea to Value, I want to say a big thank you for deciding to join us as someone who wants to improve their creativity. It’s people like you who are the most likely to come up with the breakthrough ideas of tomorrow.
You’re probably on this page because you asked to be sent the exclusive free Creativity Training Tracker, the original worksheet designed to help you include the sorts of activities in your life which will help train your Deep Creativity.
If you haven’t received a copy of the training to become more creative in one month, we can send you a copy for free if you click below and let us know where to send it.
This is the type of thinking which triggers ideas when you aren’t expecting them. It is related to the sorts of ideas which rely on what is called divergent thinking, using parts of the brain which piece together information in radically different ways to form original ideas.
This is based on more than 4 years of research so far into how the brain actually comes up with ideas (Nick Skillicorn continues to refine it based on new research).
So in order for you to understand why these are the activities listed on the sheet, let me explain to you what creativity experts have concluded happens in the brain when you have an idea
The Four Stages of Creativity
Absorbing knowledge, experience, insight and context, as well as understanding a specific challenge which requires an idea
Time required for your mind to form new connections, happens best in a low-energy state
The moment of insight when your mind finds a potential solution and makes you aware of it. The “eureka” moment that seems to come out of nowhere
A quick mental check to see if the solution could work and should be investigated further
Your brain will go through all four stages above when developing a truly new idea. What is fascinating is that the majority of this work actually happens in the subconcious parts of your brain which you are not aware of and over which you have little control. This is one of the reasons why ideas will often come to you when you are least expecting them, like in the shower.
The various exercises to be completed as part of the creativity tracker are specifically selected to train all of these stages of creativity, to give you an overall improvement and benefit.
[If you’re interested in more of the science behind how this works, I strongly suggest you watch this video interview I had with Professor Vincent Walsh who is looking at the neuroscience of creativity.]
How to use the creativity tracker – Setup
The tracker is designed to be printed and kept somewhere visual, where you can note down what you’ve done on a daily / weekly / monthly basis. A4 (or letter) size works best for keeping it in a notebook, A3 size to be stuck to a wall.
You will notice that the first column says “Day”, and there are 31 rows grouped into sections of 7 rows. This represents the maximum of 31 days in a month, grouped by week.
It is completely up to you how you want to start your numbering for whatever month you begin on. Some people will prefer to label the first row as the first day of the month, no matter what weekday it is. Some people will prefer to have their first day be a Monday to align with the weeks. If you’re starting partway through a month (which the majority of people are likely to have when they download the tracker), they might prefer to number all the rows from 1 onwards and shade out the days in the month which have already elapsed (if you are just getting started, this is the method I recommend for most beginners, as it encourages you to get started immediately).
Understanding the sections
There are six different sections, representing the types of activities you should be completing, along with how frequently you should be doing each type of activity (every day, at least once a week, or one per month).
For the daily exercises, it is important to understand that this is not a religion, so don’t punish yourself if you miss one. The more often you manage to do them, and the more they become a habit, the more benefit you will start seeing. But I know that sometimes life gets in the way, and you might find yourself at the end of a day not having been able to complete a section. That is ok, just note it down, and keep on with the schedule and habit of doing them in the following days. Don’t try to “catch up” by doing extra sections the next day as this won’t have much of a benefit overall.
Section A: 15 minutes of unfocused time
We now know that your brain’s ability to be creative depends not only on what you know and how you approach problems, but also by how active the brain is. Much like your heart rate, your brain has different frequencies which it operates at depending on how active it is, which also determines what it becomes good at. When you just wake up, it is still in a relaxed state, but as you become more alert and get to work, it “speeds up” as it is required to focus on tasks. When it is focused, it becomes very good at executing on problems in front of it, and combining ideas in a conscious way.
The issue is that this also prevents it using energy to form deep new connections which lead to ideas, which happens most efficiently when it is quite relaxed, in what’s known as an “alpha” state. This is why people will often have ideas when they aren’t actually focused on a challenge, such as when they are in the shower, driving, walking or waking up (watch the interview where I go into more detail on this here). Therefore, part of becoming more creative is about making sure that you have some time each day which encourages your brain to get comfortable going back into this state.
Therefore, part of becoming more creative is about making sure that you have some time each day which encourages your brain to get comfortable going back into this state. And this requires you to force yourself to have “unfocused time”, when you aren’t engaged in any activity which is requiring you to focus. What sort of things require you to focus and should therefore be avoided during this time? Here are a few:
Speaking with people (including meetings)
Looking at a screen of any kind (TV, computer, phone are all equally bad)
Actively listening to anything which includes a human voice (conversations or music included)
Being in a noisy environment
Engaging in something competitive, like team sport
Essentially, you need to become comfortable letting your mind wander for a period of about 15 minutes. Be warned, the first time a lot of people try this they actually find it physically uncomfortable, and want to start doing “something” like check their phone (fail!). The secret is to find a time during the day when you can fit this 15 minute period into something else you’re doing, which often involves going somewhere (to collect your lunch, walking during your commute, a stroll around the park etc). This makes it significantly easier and will quickly become a comfortable habit.
How to mark it successfully on the tracker: If you managed to have 15 minutes of unfocused time that day, just put a tick in that box. Done
Section B: Creativity Exercises
Your brain is a magical machine which has evolved to be unbelievably efficient. To illustrate this, get out a stopwatch and time yourself to see how quickly you can solve the following two puzzles, while at the same time gently tapping yourself on the top of your head:
What is 7 + 3?
What is 7³?
While you’re likely to have solved the first one faster than the blink of an eye, for most people the second would be much more challenging, requiring us either to calculate it manually or cheat. You’re also likely to be able to do the first one tapping your head, but you may have even noticed your tapping stopped for the second one. The reason for the difference is not the complexity of the math itself, it’s that you have memorised the answer to the first equation many years ago. The brain is stunningly efficient at returning memories since it has been taught that these “correct” answers are safe and can be relied upon and it finds this process very comfortable.
The issue arises when you’re trying to come up with new ideas. When set any challenge, the first things your brain will look for, find and make you aware of are the “correct” answers, which are stored as memories. But if it needs to push beyond these memories, it needs to begin not only accessing less efficient and slower networks of neurons, it also needs to try various wild combinations of knowledge which don’t result in a correct answer, which requires a lot of energy and can result in a risky solution. This is why even though the “eureka” moment you come up with an idea often feels great, the time before the idea can be physically uncomfortable and scary to many people. You can find out more about this in my TEDx talk on the science of creativity.
This can be overcome by doing regular daily exercises to train the brain in overcoming this “comfort barrier” through asking questions to which there is not definitive correct answer, and then asking it to come up with as many different solutions as possible for a period of time. A good metaphor is doing physical exercises which push your comfort limits, like seeing how many pushups you can do in one minute. The first time you attempt it, it will likely feel very difficult and you won’t be able to do more than a few. But as your body (or brain) gets used to them and begin to build up their abilities, you’ll be able to do more and more in the same time period.
My research shows that three short sets of creativity exercises a day is likely to begin making the brain a lot more comfortable in working through creative challenges when they come up in real life. If you’re starting out, I suggest beginning with a time limit of 2 minutes to think of as many diverse and original ideas to each exercise for the first week, then moving on to 3 minutes per exercise in the second week, 4 minutes in the third week and then 5 minutes in all the weeks after that (more than 5 minutes will lead less improvement). If you want to get one month worth of exercises, you can check out my book 30 Days of Creativity Training on amazon.
So where do you find creativity exercises to complete?