There’s an Important Difference
Creative thinking differs from daydreaming in one important way. When you daydream, for the most part, you are entertaining yourself. When you use creative thinking, you are working.
Creative people think, a lot. What creative people soon realize is that creative thinking is hard work. You can actually get tired when you think creatively.
People who don’t use their imaginations in this way don’t understand how thinking, even creative thinking, can be actual work that is as tiring as physical labour. Thinking is just thoughts and don’t those run through your brain constantly, with little or no effort anyway?
Thoughts do run through your mind constantly, all sorts of them. That would be what makes staying on track with creative thinking so difficult.
The key is to know when your mind switches from creative thinking to daydreaming
Often it’s a fine line between creative thinking and daydreaming. Both, obviously, entail thinking. You can let your mind wander in search of new ideas and be working. And you can let your mind wander and be daydreaming.
The switch can be so subtle that if you are not careful you can slip from creative thinking into daydreaming and not notice. In reality your mind has wandered way off topic and not in search of new ideas. It has given itself some playtime, usually without your permission.
That’s where it can get a bit muddy when are you scoping out new stimulus and when are you slacking?
I’m not talking about deciding what to have for dinner, or wondering how good the movie you plan on seeing is going to be, that fits the daydreaming scenario and can be easily recognized. I’m talking about when you let your mind free range for ideas and it veers off into entertainment, or procrastination instead of working.
One way to be sure you know what your mind is doing is to label your thinking sessions.
If you’re going to do some creative thinking, set that thought firmly in your mind before you start. Recognize that you are going into a ‘session’ with the goal of getting new ideas, solving a problem whatever is necessary. Concentrating in this way will keep your mind focused on the task at hand.
Set certain limits, like how long you’ll let your mind wander. You can use a timer, know that often a loud alarm may jar you out of a deep thought state and you could lose whatever you’ve gained. Instead, if an alarm is necessary, use one that is set to go off with music or a gentle tone.
I like to make sure I have a large block of time for my sessions. That way I don’t have to stop if things are getting interesting, I can chase an idea if it comes to me. When I get restless, I call the session finished.
You may also want to make certain topics off limit. It’s easy to give yourself a creative thinking session and then think about how the sun is so nice and warm. While those thoughts can be a nice warm up exercise, you need to move your thoughts into a more active state in order for your session to be productive.
Always keep in mind that daydreaming isn’t any form of creative thinking
Daydreaming is a break from creative thinking. You’ve shut down the work machine to relax. In this way daydreaming has important merits. It let’s us sort out things without realizing we’re doing it, much like our sleeping dreams. It’s also a mini-vacation or a time-out for our brain. In this way daydreaming is beneficial but it must still be used properly.
The only real rule is that you know when you’re doing creative thinking and when you’ve allowed yourself to start daydreaming. Daydream without any restraint and soon you’ll find getting back into the flow of creative thinking is going to be difficult.
Don’t try to trick yourself by convincing yourself you’re working when you know you’re not
If you’re tired, or worn out, maybe frustrated, and want a break, admit it and take one. This can be a lot more productive than pretending you’re working when you’re clearly not.
People who go to work get breaks during the work day, a creative person working for him/herself should apply the same work ethic. During the work time you’ve decided on, set aside a few breaks and actually take them.
Then when your break is over get back on track.
There are different methods of creative thinking that can be a tremendous help to get new and different ideas flowing. In order for them to be effective you have to know the difference between creative thinking and daydreaming.
Learn to recognize the signs of slipping into a daydream and be persistent in moving your thinking back to the method you’re working on. If you do this consistently you’ll find your creative thinking sessions will be tremendously improved and consequently more productive.