Every content creator — marketers and casual bloggers — has hit the creative block. The feeling of complete gridlock when trying to work is scarily common.
This is most obvious when trying to think of ideas for content. Without ideas you can’t get started, and ideas simply will not come while creative block sits with you.
Over my last two and a half years as a content creator, I’ve tried many things to shake that block loose, and the best way I’ve found so far is to organize and automate your idea generation. By both stocking up on knowledge and making it as easy as possible (and at times automatic) to record and organize your ideas, you remove the chance for creative block to settle in.
- Walking / exercising to clear your head
- Listening to podcasts to make the most of dead air
- Reading blog posts and books to stock up on knowledge
- Recording ideas in a note-taking app
- Automatically shifting ideas into your project management app
- Sorting through your list and assigning slots in your content calendar
It’s time to beat creative block and create more killer content.
How to generate ideas
Humans aren’t machines, and can’t work as such. Creativity and motivation comes and goes, and you’re not always going to be able to generate killer content concepts.
Having said that, your mind is like a library – the more knowledge you put in, the more you have to draw upon and reuse in your own content (and ideas). Therefore, the best ways to help yourself generate ideas without trying to force the issue are as follows.
Listen to podcasts during down time
Podcasts are a dream come true for anyone who feels they don’t have the time to read. By sticking on an episode whenever you have some dead air you can keep learning more about your niche and audience and generate ideas from that interaction.
A few examples of great times to put on a podcast are:
- While commuting (driving, bussing, etc)
- While traveling (plane journeys, coach rides, etc)
- During a walk
- While exercising in general
- As you cook
- During toilet breaks
For example, even if you only listen to podcasts during your 15-minute commute to-and-from work each day, that’s 2.5 hours every working week of extra information you can use to generate stellar content ideas.
Read books instead of procrastinating
We’re all procrastinators, and it’s next to (if not totally) impossible to stay on track all the time. However, you can massively up your productivity and generate more ideas for content by productively procrastinating.
The best way to do this is to read a book whenever you know that procrastination is setting in. Your mind still gets a break from staring at a screen, and you can learn relevant topics and takeaways in detail that just can’t be covered by a blog post.
It doesn’t have to be a piece relevant to your niche either – you could read Ogilvy one month to get a professional boost, then dip into some sci-fi to give your mind a break. You can learn from whatever you read (e.g., your sci-fi choice could teach you the dangers of jargon), so go wild.
Set up an RSS feed
Books are necessary for diving deep into topics, but staying up-to-date and relevant is also vital for any aspiring content marketer. The best way to do this is to set up your own RSS feed.
If that sounds alien, an RSS feed is essentially a collection of content from various sources as they’re released. So, instead of having to travel to each site to see their content, you go to your RSS feed and see everything in one place.
There’s a couple of ways to set up a feed, but one of the easiest is to sign up to Feedly and install the app on your mobile devices. From inside the app you can search for and subscribe to whatever blogs and/or websites you want to follow, then see their content by checking back once or twice a day.
Try reading around topics that are a little out of your comfort zone too – people perform best when they’re challenged, so try reading articles that don’t immediately grab you (especially if they have a high share count). You may find a wealth of ideas just outside your comfort zone.
Go for a walk
The best ideas often come when we least expect them, so one of the best ways to generate ideas is to just give your mind a break. Go for a 10-15 minute walk and take the time to think over what you’ve seen and heard in the last couple of days.
Think of it as a little light meditation – you’re giving your mind time to process and organize what you learn without anything distracting it. Plus, both fresh air and exercise are great for boosting your productivity and reinvigorating you to get straight back at it.
How to organize your ideas
You’re taking walks, listening to podcasts, reading around your topic, and generally crushing the whole “generate ideas” thing. Unfortunately, if you don’t organize the way you record, store, and sort your ideas, the majority of them will never see the light of day.
You need to make it as easy as possible to record your ideas the second you get them – saying “I’ll record them later” is a one-way ticket to forgetting your golden idea and never getting it back. Not only that, but you should be storing all of your ideas in a single, centralized location to make it easy to browse through them.
In short, you need to:
- Record your ideas using Evernote
- Automatically centralize your ideas
- Schedule a time to sort through your ideas
- Fit any good ideas into your content calendar
Record your ideas with Evernote (or whatever’s to hand)
In an ideal world, every idea you have could be recorded in a note taking app like Evernote. If you’re using Feedly when inspiration strikes then that’s exactly the case – you can share your inspiration article to Evernote and add your own notes.
Unfortunately, that won’t always be possible.
You can have access to Evernote most of the time by installing it on your mobile, but it pays to have a small notepad you can use to jot down ideas too. That way you’re covered in case you can’t reach your phone or it runs out of battery.
If this happens, however, try to type up your idea in Evernote as quickly as you can to make sure that it’s in the same place as your other notes.
Finally, make sure that you’re recording your ideas in a separate folder in Evernote (I have one just called “Content Ideas”). This makes it easy to process your ideas into actionable tasks, as you’re not having to dart between various folders and tags to find them all.
Automatically centralize your ideas
To start turning your ideas into content it’s best to have them in some kind of project management app. Our team, for example, uses Trello to record all ideas for our blog content, with separate cards for each idea and the resources to go along with it.
Much like storing your ideas in a single folder, this makes it simple to go in and see both the content available to work on, and all of the resources related to each article.
Doing this takes time. At the very least you’ll have to copy over all the information from your Evernote account, resulting in countless hours lost as time goes by.
So why not automate the process instead?
Using Zapier, you can link your note taking app (Evernote) to your project management app (Trello), meaning any idea you record can be automatically copied over. To do this, just set Zapier to detect whenever you save an idea to (for example) your “Ideas” folder in Evernote, and tell it to (for example) create a new Trello card in your “Ideas” column.
Schedule a time to sort through your ideas
You’re generating ideas at a steady, almost effortless rate, then recording them and letting Zapier organize them for you into a single view. Now it’s time to sort out what’s worth pursuing and what should be put off or scrapped entirely in a weekly review.
This is usually best done with the rest of your content/marketing team, as then you have a consistent message as to what’s worth working on, and what direction you steer your content towards.
For example, if you have regular meetings (2+ times a week) you could set aside some extra time in one of those to work through your ideas as a team, approving good concepts and cutting the chaff together.
Put them into your blog’s calendar
Once sorted, all that’s left to do is to slot your ideas into your content calendar. Much like sorting through your ideas, this will probably happen in a meeting with the rest of your team (unless you have a set spot where you can write whatever you like).
The only thing to bear in mind here is how your ideas fit with the other content being released, along with your audience and the current climate of your niche. In other words, ask yourself (and your team):
- Is your idea time-sensitive?
- Have you published much content on the same topic recently?
- How long will it take to finish?
- How relevant is the topic?
- What point does the content serve?
Once you have the answer to these questions you can judge where it should fit into your blog calendar, knowing where they’ll best fit.
Have any tips of your own for how to generate and organize your content ideas? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.