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7 Tips to Creatively Solve Problems

Stuck on a homework problem? Give your brain a break, and learn how to approach it in a new way

A hand writing on clear whiteboard in orange marker.

We’ve all been there. Staring blankly at a page, a problem, a project. The deadline is approaching, but — tick tock — the problem is still there.

Throughout your degree (and life), you’re bound to run into problems that are tricky to solve. Sometimes it takes some creativity to get a different look at the issue and find a solution that works. Here are seven exercises for creative problem-solving.

Tip 1: Explain the problem to someone.

People gathered around a laptop.
Explaining the problem to someone can help you find solutions.

Talking about the problem can help you recognize some solutions that you might not be able to see initially. Try explaining it in simple terms, almost like you would to a child. Simplifying the issue will help you better understand the problem and its solution.

Tip 2: Try the “40-20-10-5” word exercise.

See if you can explain your problem in 40 words or less. Then, cut it down to 20, then 10, and then five. Those five words are often the root of your problem and can lead to your solution.

person writing on a notebook
Be open to new, creative ideas!

Tip 3: Play the “Craziest Idea Ever” game.

We often feel a lot of pressure to get things right on the first try. This game can relieve that pressure and help you think creatively. Set a timer for five minutes, and start listing out your craziest ideas. (Yes, even the ones that seem silly right now!) Bonus: You might surprise yourself with some good ideas along the way.

Tip 4: Start doodling!

This exercise might be more applicable to those suffering from artist’s block, but it could still give your brain the creative break it needs. Grab a blank piece of paper and draw thirty circles on it. Set a time for 2–5 minutes and see how many of those circles you can fill with random doodles.

Tip 5: Give freewriting a try.

Freewriting is a creative writing exercise that allows you to take the pressure off of writing. Set a timer for 5–10 minutes, and write about whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure. Just write!

Tip 6: Play the 10x10x10 game.

This game can help you quickly generate a lot of ideas. Start by listing 10 ideas related to your problem. Then pick one of those ideas, and list 10 variations of it. Pick one idea from that list, and generate 10 more ideas from that list. Before you know it, you’ll have many ideas to move forward with!

person walking on grass
Take a break! Walking can help reset your brain and your mood.

Tip 7: Go on a walk.

If the tips above aren’t working or they’re not your style, consider stepping away from the project and going on a walk. Sometimes, your mind just needs a break. Moderate physical exercise can help you relax and reset your brain, which will allow you to come back to the project with renewed energy.

Some of these exercises can help you get to the root of the problem, some will help you come up with other ideas or solutions, and others will help you clear your mind. Next time your stuck on a project or assignment, try experimenting with a few of these ideas to see which ones work best for you!

What other tips and tricks do you use to find solutions to your problems?