Nearly everything in our daily lives is driven by rules, habits and social norms, which can stymie creative habits at work or elsewhere. Don’t panic: There are apps to help ignite that spark.
For a writer like me, getting stuck is a big barrier to productivity. At that point, an app like Oflow, $1 on iOS, can really help push your thinking in new directions. Oflow is essentially 150-plus flashcards full of surprising suggestions or exercises to help your thinking process.
You can bring the flashcards up at random, or scan through the list and choose one that tempts you from its brief headline-like description. The cards are filled with just a few dozen words that tell you to, for example, write a story to summarise your problem, or ask a child how he or she would tackle the task you’re stuck on.
You can “favorite” flashcards that you particularly like, share them via email or over social media and write notes in response to them for later perusal. While Oflow won’t help you change the world, it can help nudge you in a new direction.
It sounds simple because it is. The app’s menus are easy to use, the flashcards are well written and using the whole package is a positive experience. But the content is limited, so you may stumble across the same ideas sometimes; the app hasn’t been updated with new suggestions in a while.
The next app may sound weird, but it can tickle your brain to help untangle stuck thinking. It’s called HaikuJAM, a collaborative poem-writing app based around creating haiku poems.
HaikuJAM began with social poem-writing, where someone would write one line of a haiku and others around the world would add other lines until the haiku was complete. The app’s interface is designed so it’s quick and practically frictionless to take part. It has since been expanded to let people create photo or image montages instead of just haikus, and you can now choose to only share the results among a group of friends instead of with everyone. Still, the app has the same principle: You spend a few moments working with others to create something new and surprising.
With this app, having someone else complete your haiku with words or ideas can be a powerful trick. At the very least, you can browse the work being created by others to see if ideas pop out. The app is free for iOS and Android so you should give it a try. Doodling is another trick to help think outside the box, and Tayasui Sketches is one of the nicest apps I’ve found for just that.
It works because it has a minimalist interface, so the app keeps the controls out of the way when you just want to let your mind wander as you draw on the screen. It also has good drawing tools so you can produce great-looking doodles in short order. Though the app is free for iOS, you can buy more drawing and painting tools pretty cheaply in-app.
Tayasui is iOS-only, for now, so if you’re an Android user, check out Autodesk’s SketchBook app. While it’s not as elegant as Tayasui, it’s another powerful drawing app that’s good for doodling. It’s free and also available on iOS. If all of these are too arty for you, check out the mind-map app MindMeister. Its more structured approach could suit you, especially since mind-mapping—a visual way to plot out information—is recognised as a great way to think creatively about a problem or task.
MindMeister, which is free on iOS and Android, is a full-featured app that lets you both create mind maps and work on them collaboratively with colleagues or friends. The interface makes it easy to set out the parts of an idea you’re tackling, and when you invite someone else to brainstorm, you can see the entries and changes they are making appear in real time.
To make the most of the app, you need to set up a free account. For access to all the features, like being able to pin images or photos into a mind map, people must pay starting at $6 a month. But even the free version is powerful, and lets you customise mind maps, adding colors, useful icons and markers. Something about laying out the elements of an issue in this graphical way can help people see new connections between parts of the task.
MindMeister is great for a quick attempt with this, with perhaps the only drawback being that sometimes it’s not possible to place the map elements exactly where you want them.
Have fun with these apps, which can help you think differently.
Quick Call Microsoft is trying something interesting with its new, free Delve app for iOS and Android. Delve is a collaborative sharing and discovery tool built into Office 365 on PCs, and it’s aimed at business users who need to discover and share documents they’ve been working on. Delve uses machine intelligence to make the sharing tasks simpler, and now it’s available for your non-Windows smartphone.