Input / Output

Have you ever had a great idea while engaged in a totally unrelated activity? That’s actually a fairly common phenomenon. Our brain tends to make interesting connections when not focused on performing a specific task. This is why we have shower thoughts. But to get quality creative output, we need quality creative input. How do you balance the two?

“When a creative artist is fatigued, it is often from too much inflow, not too much outflow.”

Julia Cameron, author, Walking in this World: Practical Strategies for Creativity.

Anti-fuel for creativity

Information overload, infobesity, or whichever name you decide to give it, there is no doubt we live in an era where the overall availability of information—any type of information—is not a problem anymore. The challenge is to sort through it and access the right one. What sources can you trust, which ones will stimulate your brain, and which will spark new ideas: it’s hard to tell at first.

In a world where we are expected to be on the receiving end of broadcast communication, designed to make it feel like it was crafted just for us, to be intentional about the content we consume is an act of freedom. What’s more, excessive content consumption can limit our creativity.

We make over 300 decisions a day on average. In addition, every time you browse, swipe, click, read, or browse content, you make a decision. Think about the number of decisions these add to the workload your brain needs to handle on a daily basis. In Deep Work, Cal Newport explains how this constant shift between novel stimuli negatively impacts your creative abilities.

This is why it’s crucial to balance your input and your output by being intentional and aligning what you consume with your creative goals. Consider the information you consume to fuel your mind the same way you would food to fuel your body: not too much, the right ingredients, and the occasional treat.

Here are a few tips to reduce mindless consumption with a content diet:

  • Limit your time on social media, using a website blocker if necessary
  • Add labels to the newsletters you subscribe to so they go straight to a dedicated folder, and set time aside to read through them
  • Go offline by reading content on your Kindle or by buying physical books and magazines

Active vs passive consumption

While being mindful of the amount of information you consume is a great first step, changing how you consume content is even more powerful. It’s easy to passively read blog posts and watch videos. But it’s better to make it an active endeavour.

Creative input / output

Here are a few ways you can go from passive to active consumption, from easier to harder:

  • Take notes: these can be in a notebook or a document. I shared some note-taking strategies in a previous article which can help you take better notes.
  • Send the link to a friend you think would be interested in the content with a couple of thoughts of your own.
  • Write a blog post about what you just watched or read: structure your thoughts and share them with the world.

Not only active consumption will help you become more intentional with the content you consume—pretty hard to take notes or write a blog post about that cat video you just watched—but science shows that it will help you remember things better and come up with better ideas later by putting your brain into focused mode.

PassiveActive
Watch a YouTube videoMake a YouTube video
Read a blog postTake notes and write your own post
Listen to a podcastShare podcast notes on Twitter

Almost any piece of content can be consumed in active mode. But note all creative input has to be content-based. There are many other ways to fuel your creativity.

Creative batteries

Once you’ve consumed enough interesting content, the best way to get your creative juices flowing is sometimes to step away from your screen and do something completely different and unrelated.

  • Take a notebook and go to a park or somewhere beautiful to sit down and relax
  • Try cooking a new recipe you have never tried before
  • Read poetry, a novel, or something unrelated to your field
  • Take a train to go visit a new town and take some photos like a tourist
  • Go to a library and explore a random aisle
  • Find a local meetup in an industry you know little about

Our brains are great at making random connections given we let them do their job and ensure we have the right balance between input and output, as well as focused and diffused modes of thinking. So help yours do its job by feeding it right.


Anne-Laure Le Cunff

I’m an ex-Googler, entrepreneur, and part-time neuroscience student at King’s College. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about productivity, creativity, learning, and designing engaging products.

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