I love innovation because it’s a new way of doing or thinking about things. It’s how we take common, ordinary things and make them better. It’s how we make ourselves better. The goal of innovation is positive change. But often we don’t allow time for innovative thinking or create the environment required to stimulate innovative thoughts. As success-minded administrative professionals, we must!

Have you ever found yourself so caught up in the day-to-day tasks of your “to do lists” and activities that you’re being driven by them instead of you feeling in control of your surroundings? It happens to all of us, so sometimes we have to manually press the reset button to get our focus back.  After a recent fall on a freshly snow covered parking lot, my reset button was pushed for me.  I broke my left wrist, and I was thrust into the perfect environment for innovative thinking – sitting still. There were a lot of things I was very frustrated about after my initial fall and diagnosis. Then after a few days of sitting still, letting my head declutter, and allowing my life to slow down, I started to find myself thinking about things with a renewed focus. I started modifying the ways I do some things (because I physically was unable to do them the way I had before), and these new ways were actually better in some cases.

Why hadn’t I thought of these things before? Why couldn’t I see there was a better way to do this earlier? Why do these things come to me now when I can hardly type, I can’t drive, and I’m significantly limited in my activities for the next few weeks? Here’s why. For the first time in many months, I’ve slowed down enough to allow myself to examine how I work, where I’m spending my time, and how I accomplish common everyday tasks. Now, I don’t recommend the method I’ve used to get the process started, but here are some ways you can hit the reset button in your life and create an environment for innovative thinking without injuring yourself.

1. Start journaling. Get a bright, cheerful, fun colored journal that will fit into your purse or bag and keep it with you wherever you go. When you get an idea that you want to pursue further, write it down. When you see a product or website or [fill in the blank] that you want to research more, write it down. When you find a resource you may want to come back to later, write it down.This does a couple of things for you. It eliminates the mental trauma of hoping you remember it later. It also frees up valuable brain space for additional ideas to enter. This becomes a great tool to get the creative ideas flowing and innovative solutions brewing. I may not use my journal every day, but I always know I have it right where I need it when a great idea hits me.I use my journal to get me started on days I’m not feeling so inspired. I have some “starters” I use to get my mind recalibrated. They are:

– Today, I am thankful for…(I am required to write down at least 5 things. It stretches me, and that’s good.)

– Today, I accomplished…

– Significant events in my life today (or this week) which impacted my actions and/or thoughts…

– What I learned today…

– What single daily action(s) did I take today to move me toward my goals and/or my highest life vision?

2. Schedule innovative thinking time each day. Our minds and bodies weren’t designed to be in a constant state of tension and adrenalin rushes. You have to create a physical and mental environment where innovative thoughts can develop. Even if it’s only 10-15 minutes a day to get started, SCHEDULE IT! Then honor your commitment to this time to refresh each day.

Some days it may mean just sitting still and watching the birds play in your yard or enjoying the flowers in your garden.  Other days it may mean pulling out your journal and taking one of those ideas to research on the Internet. Stop by the public library or your local bookstore and find a book on the topic. You don’t have to finish your research all in one visit, but get started. You can get a lot of great ideas and information each day even if you only research, read, or listen to something for 10-15 minutes. The more you do this, the more innovative your thinking will become because you’re ADDING to the mental database on a regular basis instead of just pulling from it to accomplish what you do each day.

3. Be willing to allow for innovative thinking when the unanticipated events in your life throw you a curve ball. Many times we have to react quickly in order to manage through the immediate needs of the situation. But after the initial shock of the event wears off, allow some time for reflection and see where the the innovative ideas to bubble up. Some of the best and worst experiences of my professional career have fostered some of the most innovative solutions.In my current situation, I have been forced to analyze how I work, where I work, and how I get where I need to be each day. It has made me more efficient, more progress focused (instead of perfection focused), and opened up some opportunities to work with other professionals that I may not have otherwise considered.

4. Surround yourself with innovative people. These may be co-workers, colleagues from professional associations, friends, people you follow on the web, or even family members. Think about who inspires you to view things in different ways. Who challenges you to pursue new opportunities? Who do you admire and why? These are probably some innovative people you should consider spending more time with either in person or virtually. Innovative thinking is contagious.

5. Expose yourself to innovative ideas. With all of the media available to us in the information age, there are many ways you can accomplish this. The goal is to get yourself exposed to new information. Understand your own learning style and match that up with the technology that best fits your schedule. Here are some ideas to help you stimulate innovative thinking during the normal work week:

 – Websites/Blogs: Search topics of interest to you. When you find good sites, subscribe to their RSS feeds. Online news sources are useful, too.

– Ezines: Subscribe to some electronic newsletters or ezines related to the industry in which you work or from administrative resource websites.

 – Social Media Sites: If you’re using social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, search by specific topics or industries. Find key influencers to follow who post links to great information and resources. The biggest advantage is that you can do it in 2-3 minute increments at ANY time of the day. Almost every social media site is set up to work with mobile devices, so you can access it on the go! You can find a lot of free teleseminars and webinars using searches on these sites.

 – Take a book or magazine with you to read over lunch. If you don’t normally take a lunch break, START NOW! Even if you only get 30 minutes, start with that. Feeding your body physically (with food) and mentally (by reading) will give you the physical nourishment and mental invigoration you need to get you through the rest of the day more successfully. It also facilitates innovative thinking.

 – Listen, read, or watch while you exercise. It is a great way to make a workout go more quickly while filling your mind with useful information. It’s a great way to use one habit to motivate and facilitate the other.

 – Have CDs, books, or other publications in the car when you’re waiting to pick up family members from their activities during the week. This is a great way to skim through industry publications that you receive but rarely get time to review.

With all of the media options now available, there’s no excuse to not be benefitting from them. Be resourceful. Find the way that works best for you.

You can become a more innovative thinker when you make the conscious decision to do so. Patience and a positive attitude are key factors to innovative thinking. It takes time to let the cream rise to the top, but you have to sit still for a period of time if you want that to happen.

As individuals and professionals, it’s very important to expose ourselves constantly to new ideas, methods, and industry trends if we want to excel. The new ideas and concepts you bring into your mind will inject their way into what you do each day on the job! Executives want assistants who provide solutions to the problems that come up every day. Innovative thinking is a required skill for success. Those admins who become innovative thinkers and get creative about the way they plan their career in 2010 and beyond will be the ones who thrive for years to come.

© 2010 All Things Admin and Julie Perrine International, LLC

How do you stimulate innovative thinking? Share your ideas by commenting here on this blog post.

HOW TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR WEBSITE

Want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or website? You can — just as long as you include this complete blurb with it:

Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.