How to Be Efficient When Your Job Is to Pull Ideas out of Thin Air

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INFLUENCER: Walrus' Jillian Dresser shares top tips for getting pen to paper before the panic sets in
How to Be Efficient When Your Job Is to Pull Ideas out of Thin Air

No matter how long you’ve worked in the creative industry, the two scariest things will always be an open brief and a deadline. Here’s what I’ve come to believe works for getting pen to paper before the panic sets in.


Give Yourself Less Time

The brain isn’t designed to focus on one task for 8 hours a day. If you know you have a lot of time, procrastination sets in. Instead, give yourself short bursts of time to come up with ideas. Set a timer. I’ve found that 45 minutes or 90 minutes is the sweet spot. It also helps to set goals within that time frame. Come up with 3 ideas in 45 minutes, or 5 in 90. Whatever it is. You can sprint in short windows then take a guilt-free break.


Work Alone Before Working Together

The most time-sucking thing you can do after a briefing is immediately jump into a room with your partner and start working together. You’ll end up just staring at each other, waiting for the other person to suddenly have an idea. I’ve found it’s much better to work separately first. Come to the table with ideas and you’ll have something to talk about. Then you can make the ideas better or kill them, together. One idea usually leads to another, but you first have to have one in order for that to happen. 


Be Nosey

If you’re new to an account, look for or ask to see past presentations your agency has done. You can quickly glean a lot of helpful information – what worked, what didn’t. Sometimes you’ll even see one of your own ideas that was already presented and didn’t work. Also, talk to other creatives. A lot of agencies like to have teams present work to creative directors separately. While that may save individuals time, you miss out on seeing what other people are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask other teams what they showed, what was liked and what didn’t resonate. All of that feedback will help you narrow in on better ideas.


Develop a Bag of Tricks

Have some go-to ways of coming up with ideas. What if the ad is just a huge product shot —  what can you do with that? What if the product benefit is delivered in the first line of a script? What’s the message in 6 words or less? What if there are no people in it? Develop some jumping-off points to go to when you’re stuck.  


Start Putting Together the Presentation Now

We all wait too long to start putting together the deck. It’s often not until you see the work all laid out that you really start figuring things out. That’s when lines get re-written to make more sense. It’s when taglines are thrown in. It’s when you discover that the visual layout you had in your head doesn’t actually work. If you can figure that stuff out ahead of 2am the night before the meeting, everybody wins.

Now back to work…



Jillian Dresser is creative director at Walrus

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Walrus, 1 year ago