resetImagine unplugging from the world and becoming virtually invisible?

I’ll paint you a picture of my experience doing just that.

I recently went for an early morning run free of any electronic devices. The only hint of time was the direction the sun was heading in the sky. The birds and frogs were my live music. My breathing and shuffling feet on the pavement were the only other sounds. I’m pretty sure I could even hear my own heartbeat.

At the end, though my body was sore, my mind was clear and I was rejuvenated and full of inspiration. Happily, I realized I had actually run faster than usual, and the rest of the day went with effortless focus and energy. My unplugged run served as a much needed reminder that savoring peaceful time without man-made noise or contact can increase productivity.

I had turned myself off, reset, and gone back online better than ever.

Reflecting on that exhilarating experience, I see how easily this applies to the beginning stage of the creative process in developing direct marketing strategy. Magic happens when you focus on what comes to mind first, clarify your vision, and then articulate it so it makes sense to everyone else.

Unfortunately, the magic is sometimes stunted by outside pressures. We are often given tight deadlines, historical benchmarks or specific budgets that hinder the creative process before it even starts. The remedy can be to simply pull the plug. Here are some tips to unplugging when inspiration eludes us.

Be unavailable ­ – Block time on the calendar. Whether you are alone or with a team of people, there should be time allotted for brainstorming. Looking at planned unplugged time as an opportunity instead of an interruption can be the beginning of finding inspiration.

Find an inspiring space – “Inspiring” can mean different things depending on your work environment. You might use the pavilion outside your office park, the sunroom next to your home office, or the comfortably lit conference room in the corporate headquarters. The idea is for the energy in your environment to be free from distraction and stress in order to fuel your motivation.

Leave the numbers behind- Unless budget numbers or past campaign results are incredibly inspiring to you, they don’t belong here. It’s okay bean counters, we’ll get back to those numbers later.

No research necessary- Google and statistics need to stay out of this stage of the process. They are a distraction that you’re not ready for, but you will address in a later phase. Having a panic attack yet?  It’s okay. Take a breath. All you need now are some assumptions about what you are trying to accomplish and who you are trying to reach. Nothing more.

Borrow inspiration- We all borrow ideas. Did you recently receive an effective email packed with content that would resonate with your audience? How about an interesting personalized direct mail piece, an example of a stellar communication cadence a peer is using, or a good luck charm your best friend gave you? You can use them, keeping in mind they should boost your own original ideas.

Run with tangents- It’s always funny when you’re in a meeting to address a specific topic and end on a completely different one. Sometimes conversations lead to inspirational ideas, and it’s okay to run with them, as long as everyone in the meeting is engaged. Make sure someone keeps track of time and when to stop to keep your impromptu brainstorming sessions productive and not an exhausting burden.

Write it all down- This tip is in every article about creativity and idea generation that I’ve seen. Ideas that are vocalized, written, and seen are more likely to develop into something real. During meetings, make sure you or another team member write everything down. It’s also a good idea to have pen and paper ready wherever you are – you never know when inspiration will strike. Seventy two percent of people have actually generated new ideas in the shower. Even if your ideas seem half-baked or really bizarre, it pays to write them down. Chances are these crazy concepts will prompt more ideas when you’re ready to set aside time to brainstorm.

Edit- This stage is where the organized chaos develops into a concept or creative brief and you can inject your numbers and research. Dial it back; make it bigger or maybe even start all over again. Whatever the case, you need to formalize concepts so your team understands the strategy.

This all seems counter-intuitive for us, doesn’t it? However, the real key to freeing up more space in the mind for productive idea generation is to unplug from things that create pressure and suppress creativity. When you unplug, it’s just like pressing the reset button.