AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

Brainstorming — if it were easy, it wouldn't be called brainstorming. Ransacking your brain for ideas can take work, but there are methods to the madness.

People brainstorm for a variety of reasons. 

  1. You need ideas for a project, business plan, event, etc.
  2. You have a problem that you need to solve.
  3. You are looking to improve your critical or creative thinking.
  4. You are working with a team that's trying to collaborate better together.

So where do you get started?

First things first, there are four key rules to brainstorming. So, what are the 4 rules of brainstorming?

  1. Make no judgments. Don't discard any of your ideas just yet. Better yet, don't judge yourself for having them. They might be brilliant, and you just don't know it yet.
  2. Think freely. Allow your thoughts to flow, and keep an open mind.
  3. Remember that quantity is key. The more ideas you can come up with, the better. It's best to have options.
  4. Keep an open mind to others' ideas. When you're brainstorming in a group, don't be so quick to shoot down others' ideas. Keep open and allow others to contribute, as well.

Now that you understand the rules of brainstorming, how do you go about actually doing it?

What are some brainstorming techniques?

What is the brainstorming strategy? Here are nine tried and true brainstorming strategies, explained.

1. Keep a bullet journal.

Bullet journaling is a type of journaling that uses bullet points as its central tenet. It simplifies journaling, and it can be used for brainstorming because you can easily jot down all of your ideas as they come to you. The best part about bullet journaling is that you can always come back to it, too. Because you've written down your ideas, you don't need to worry about forgetting them if you want to sleep on it all and come back to them the next day, or even a week down the line.

2. Make a list.

Making a list is one surefire way of getting your creative juices flowing. You can do this by journaling with a pen and paper in an agenda or using a to-do list app.  Jot down a list of what you know you need to do in order to achieve the task at hand. Once you have cleared the clutter in your head, you'll have more room for ideas to flow, which you can jot down in your journal or in a separate page in your to-do list app.

3. Draw pictures of mind maps in a sketchbook.

Sketching is can be a fun way to brainstorm, especially if you're coming up with ideas for a visual task.

For example, if you're trying to build a website, you might sketch what you envision the homepage to look like. If you're brainstorming ideas for a new product line, you might sketch out what you want the end product to be. If you're brainstorming ideas for an event, you might sketch out some of the different pieces of the party you know you want — food, streamers, table toppers, etc.

You can also practice mind mapping.  Even if the task isn't visual, sometimes drawing your ideas out can get your creativity flowing more than writing or speaking them. All you have to do is sketch out a map of your ideas instead of listing or outlining them. It's basically a visual iteration of a list or outline. Organized like a tree, the central tenet is your main focus, and you draw branches from that with different ideas, plus more ideas that stem from those ideas.

4. Create an outline.

Creating an outline can help you to move forward with a task at hand. For example, if you're brainstorming for a short story, an article, an academic paper or even an email, you can create an outline to kickstart it. This will help you to determine how to content will flow. All you have to do is come up with subsections, and then consider putting bulleted lists of content ideas beneath each one.

5. Think out loud, and bounce ideas off of others.

Thinking out loud is a scientifically proven method of brainstorming. Research suggests that verbalizing your ideas helps you to remember them better, which of course helps you to forge forward efficiently and productively. Likewise, thinking outloud can help you to really hear your own ideas and, therefore, make more rational decisions.

Use others as a sounding board. Bouncing concepts off of others can prove to be really helpful in solidifying different ideas. They can also provide feedback to help further develop those ideas. Besides that, as noted, verbalizing ideas is, again, a helpful tactic regardless of whether or not anyone is listening.

6. Use your words.

Word storms and associations refer to methods of brainstorming that get you thinking outside of the box. They force you tap into your subconscious, and they are especially helpful for writers and academics for that reason. Different word tactics include:

  • Word Storms: A word storm is a process when you write down every single word that come to mind when you read another word. Perhaps you start with a word relevant to your project, and then you just start blurting out and jotting down other words that the initial word reminds you of. Then you can group those words together depending on how they're related to one another, so you create different categories. It's as simple as that!
  • Word Association: Word associations are like word storms, except you don't have to think too much into how those words relate to one another. Rather than grouping words together, just focus on jotting down all the words that come to mind (and to your team's mind), as it might surprise you what you and other people think of when seeing that first word. This, therefore, gets your creativity going.
  • Work Banks: Word banks are nothing but collections of words that may inspire you. You can find word banks online, or you can start creating your own to keep on hand for the next time that you need help brainstorming, too. Through your other tactics like word storms and associations, you might find words and synonyms of those words that you can easily add to your word bank as you go.

 and to get out of a rut. We generally come up with ideas that are obvious at first, and associative brainstorming is a good way to artificially force yourself past that point instead of hours of work. It’s a kind of shortcut that taps into the subconscious, the associations you already know but don’t allow yourself to think. Associative brainstorming works best for copy writers, creativity exercises, or when you’re stuck in a creative project and don’t know what content to create next. This can also be fun during your regular team building exercises.

7. Meditate.

Take some time to sit with your thoughts. Meditating doesn't mean turning your head off — rather, it's quit the opposite. That's why meditating can be a great way to brainstorm because you're setting aside time (typically about 15 to 30 minutes) to allow thoughts to come and go. While the point of meditation is to not dwell on any ideas that inevitably pop into your head during this time, you're also meant to be mindful and conscious of them. When you give yourself this time to allow thoughts to pass without judgment, you're opening yourself up to the many ideas that you'll naturally come up with without any effort at all.

8. Write out your goals.

Maybe you have no idea where to begin, but you certainly know where you want to end up. Write out your goals. Once your goals are written out on a palpable piece of paper, they become ever more real. And when you can look at your goals, you'll have an easier time figuring out ways to achieve those goals. As the ideas start rolling in, you can list them beneath your end goal.

For example, maybe you want to save $3,000 by the end of the month, and you're brainstorming ways to do it. Write down just that. "I will save $3,000 by October 31st." Then, once you've set that intention, you can start listing ideas of how you can achieve that. "-I will save 25% of each paycheck this month. -I will pick up six extra shifts at work. -I will cut back on ordering my morning coffee to only once a week."

9. Listen to others' input.

Keep an open mind to the ideas, input and feedback from those around you. You never know what ideas they might able to bring to the table. Likewise, you never know what others might say that will spark an idea in you. It can be something so random that its trigger even surprises you. But others have differently colored experiences that allow them to bring unique perspectives to the conversation that you may never have thought of.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.