Innovation is about what you produce. But it’s also about how you produce it. No matter what your job title is, you are likely to have multiple roles and activities that contribute to your work product—from planning to concepting to collaborating to presenting. The right workspace for the right task can boost energy and creativity—by providing both context and constraints. Here’s what I tried this week and how it worked for me.
Walk and talk: Explore big ideas
I believe the best way to face any blank page is on foot—and out loud. We think 60 percent more creatively when moving than we do at our desks, according to a recent Stanford study on the benefits of walking. That’s why I prepared a TEDx pitch during my morning dog walks this week.
I asked myself what my core belief was about my topic. And I spent the rest of the walk speaking out loud to an imaginary listener (wearing ear buds so it looked like I was on the phone). The more I talked, the clearer my thesis became. The supporting points flowed from there. I captured my best ideas on my voice recorder. And in the course of a few walks, I had the raw material for a full outline that I quickly typed up and submitted. I’ve used this strategy to craft client presentations, develop live storytelling performances, and conceptualize four books.
Home office: Be in command
My home office is command central for my planning and execution, with all of my essential tools and technology in arm’s reach. This week, I upped the ante by moving my desk to the Feng shui “command position.” Instead of facing the wall with my back to the door, I am now looking into the room and facing the door. This instantly changed my vibe from “backed into a corner” to “in control of my destiny.”
Plus, I took advantage of my privacy to experiment with a few other power moves. Before an important meeting, I swapped my afternoon coffee with a power nap, then pumped myself up with a few power poses. This boosted my energy and confidence, leading to a successful negotiation with a new prospect.
Around the house: Be flexible
Working from home also lets me easily shift contexts. I do my marketing consulting work at my desktop computer where I dress professionally, have a beautiful background for video meetings, and use an enormous screen to easily move between multiple documents and projects. This week, that’s meant researching and outlining a tech whitepaper.
When it’s time for creative work such as writing books, poems, or essays, I use my laptop, on my couch, in yoga pants with my feet up—typically in the evenings. The shift in contexts keeps each work practice sacred—and separate.
On site with a client: Become an insider
MIT researchers and I agree that live interactions are of great benefit to a team’s performance. That’s why I meet with clients in person whenever possible. This week, I spent a day on-site to kick off a video script I’m writing for a company’s flagship product.
Talking with the creative team around the design studio table immersed me in the client’s culture and brand in a way no creative brief ever could. As we discussed the value proposition of the offering and the arc of the narrative, I quickly became familiar with the company’s goals, voice, and product. And as my new team saw how I think and solve, they gained trust and confidence in me. I returned to my office prepared to translate the virtues of their product to story.
At a café: Ride the slipstream
At cafés, I tend to execute on strategy. In the hum of anonymity with the ideal amount of generative background noise, I ride the wave of collective momentum to develop content, concepts, and campaigns. This week, my café workday was dedicated to completing the tech whitepaper I had researched a few days earlier in my home office. With the help of my laptop, source materials, and 16 oz. latte, I moved from outline to first draft in a fraction of the time it would have taken alone. Co-working spaces, public transportation, and hotel lobbies can also be satisfying makeshift workspaces when I want background buzz.
In a parked car: Maximize the margins
Because commute time is unpredictable, I often end up at my son’s school at least 15 minutes before pickup time. This has become my power quarter-hour. Seated with a laptop in the front passenger seat with no Wi-Fi distraction, focus softened by the late-afternoon drowsiness reported to be optimal for creative work, I sink into my writing. This week’s focus was the video script for my new client.
I use this strategy any time I have a sliver of time: in doctor’s waiting rooms, at my son’s sports practice, and sitting with foil wraps in the hairdresser’s chair. By competing with myself to make every minute count, I once wrote half a book in six months in these micro margins.
What’s your sweet spot?
It turns out that each workspace I explored this week was effective because of the unique set of constraints it offered. And I’m not alone in finding limitation to be a launchpad for creative thinking. You may find a breakthrough idea—or move from planning it to shipping it—working at a concert, in a library, or on your best friend’s front porch. Experiment to discover the contexts that inspire and equip you to create. And remember even those that seem sub-optimal at first may offer surprising benefits. When you synchronize work and environment, you can make your greatest contribution.