How to Be and Stay Creative in Our Jobs

We had such a great conversation on LLU Live #21 today that  I thought it deserved its own blog post.  So here goes!

Question: How do you nurture  your interests and skills and still tend to  the more mundane everyday tasks that your job as a technologist entails? How do you stay focused and energized and creative  in order  to keep on going, day in and out?

Here are some of the ideas we came up with during LLU Live #21. Please tell us what you think!

1) Find things to play with:

Sometimes thinking is less about staring off into space and more about sitting still and channeling your creative energy.  We talked about having small toys, gizmos, objects to grab at your desk as a way to expend energy and yet stay put and focused at the same time.  Playtime is important, people!

Example below:


Ryan and his ever present mini-slinky

Ryan and his ever present mini-slinky


2) Getting up and out of the office:

Go for a quick walk, breathe the fresh air, sit in the sunshine (especially important if your office has no windows or if you work in a basement).  Note: You need to come back… the idea is to energize yourself but not go wandering off or get exhausted in the process.

3) Force yourself  out of your comfort zone and meet people you might not otherwise meet:

We are all creatures of habit. And often we don’t like change.  But your ideas can’t expand to their fullest unless you push yourself to try something new: Talk with someone outside of your department and see what you can learn from that person.  Find something you can share with them.  Do it  over coffee, lunch, or while going for that much needed brief walk (see #2).

4) Visit some of the classes you support:

Ask to sit in the back of the room and just watch.  For once don’t be there as tech support, but rather as a colleague wanting to learn about the dynamics of someone’s classroom.  Try a language class in a language you do not speak.  Watch the interactions, the gestures, the dynamics. Go back for several sessions. Meet with the teacher and ask about the class (note: this is not about evaluating the teacher, rather it is about the work that goes on in the classroom)  Think about ways that your expertise might benefit this class, now that you have seen it up close.

5) Flip your office hours:

Most faculty have three hours a week when their office door is open and students are encouraged to visit.  The rest of the time it is closed and they do their own work. For language technologists or technologists in general, the opposite is true: our door always seems to be open…which can sometimes make it hard to get things done.

Make arrangements so that  for  three one-hour blocks in a week your door will be closed. Use that time to what you need to do without interruptions, phone calls or tech emergencies. See what happens!

6) Find yourself a Stan:

Longtime LLU supporter and bestest gf ever Judi  talked about her colleague Stan and how even though he doesn’t work with her in her center, he works in the same building and is available to talk, bounce around ideas, be a sounding board, and ask really hard questions.   We agreed that we all need a Stan in our lives:  someone who helps you think or write  clearly, who helps you express yourself in the best way possible, and  anticipates possible road blocks or catastrophes to your Really Big Ideas.

7) Staccato vs Legato: small pockets of time => small bursts of sustained creativity:

Too often we think that creative practices and innovations can only happen in  large chunks of time.  Given what we do and where we do it…who has the luxury of a large chunk of time?  We are lucky if we get those three one hour blocks during the week (see  #5)

Idea: Focus on the micro:  think about things that can be done in small bursts. Practice staccato vs legato. Stop trying to save the world by writing one huge blog post…. instead, write a series of short ones that touch upon different parts of the larger whole, and ask for people’s comments and questions along the way.


So, how do you stay creative in your job?  Please share your ideas in the comment section below!


(image thanks to Susan Cain)


Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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