7 Ways Constraints Can Make You More Creative

September 14, 2015

As Belle Beth Cooper, co-founder of the Exist app, writes in this Fast Company piece, "Constraints can seem like the last thing you'd want for a creative project, but they're actually beneficial when it comes to doing good work."

For many creative projects, brainstorming and nonlinear thinking are great ways to get the creative juices flowing, and can generate some incredible out-of-the-box ideas.

But without putting some constraints or parameters in place from the outset (such as having to create a fashion line out of only bubble wrap and duct tape), a project that can begin with a great idea might never have enough of a structure or foundation to get off the ground.

In no particular order, here are seven ways to put constraints to work for you:

Set a Timer

The start of any project can feel daunting, so finding a way to work in short, concentrated bursts is key. If you find yourself on your third hour of sitting before the proverbial blank page, grab a kitchen (or phone) timer and set it for 30 minutes. You'll be surprised how inspirational a rapidly-declining timer can be.

Commit to One Small Task (That Contributes to a Larger Goal)

To foster an amazing idea, aspirational "big" thinking is essential. To actually realize that idea, breaking the larger project into smaller steps is crucial. Focusing on one mini task at a time not only makes the whole process more manageable, but also acts as its own motivator once you start ticking tasks off your list.

Single-Task Until It Hurts

While we all take it for granted that multi-tasking (answering that email while composing a tweet and outlining next steps) is a our new normal, there's something to be said for focusing on one single task at a time. Not only does this guarantee that you complete that task before moving onto the next, it also gives you the freedom to be more thoughtful, and thus more thorough, in your approach.

Limit Your Team

Too many cooks in the kitchen, decision by committee — we've all heard of these clichés, but that doesn't make them any less true. When working on a project, inviting too many voices (and opinions) into the mix can muddy the waters, diluting the original vision and limiting a project's power and scope.

Give Yourself Deadlines

Deadlines are glorious things, even the ones you set yourself. Not only are they great motivators, but time constraints are great at heightening your concentration and providing you with a laser-beam focus. As Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has said, "...during the brainstorming phase, we came up with about five times as many 'key features.' Most were discarded after a week of prototyping. Since only 1 in every 5 to 10 ideas works out, the strategy of limiting the time we have to prove that an idea works allows us to try out more ideas, increasing our odds of success."

Focus Your Content

Steve Jobs said, "Do one thing well." Rather than trying to cover all your bases, concentrate on one aspect or vision. That way, your purpose remains consistent and your project becomes that much stronger for it.

Brainstorm Better

Spitballing ideas is great, but debating ideas that are more fleshed out from the outset cand give you a better and faster window into which ideas will work, and which won't.


To discover more about the power of constraints, read the Fast Company article in full and discover even more productivity-related content.

By Lisa Merlini

Tag: Exploring Education

Subscribe to Our
Exploring Education Newsletter