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How to generate ideas, regardless of your deadline

Ruth Hartnoll   —   25 April 2016   —   Content & Social

How to generate ideas, regardless of your deadline

It’s Monday, the blog is due Wednesday and your content calendar is empty.

You need an idea and you need it quick.

Flashes of party conversation enter your head; “Oh you’re a writer? Where DO your ideas come from? I’d worry I’d run out of ideas.” You, cockily leaning against a wall, cocktail in hand; “Well as a professional I just NEVER run out of ideas. It’s my job to be an ideas person.” Back in reality, however, you’re staring at a blank screen. Your ideas disappeared with your lunch, which you’ve eaten by 10 o'clock.  

Where do ideas come from? And how do we make them appear when we’re staring at a blank screen? Well, the answer is here. These simple tips for coming up with ideas are sure to help you when facing a deadline. Pause for a second from that white page hell and read this post.

If your deadline was yesterday  

When you’re under pressure, sometimes, all ideas can escape your head - including all of the things you’ve recently read or watched and found interesting. To solve this issue it can be good to take a trip down memory lane and re-ignite the things you thought “Oh, that’s interesting” when you read them.


  • Your own Twitter feed - Every time you’ve retweeted or favorited something you’ve effectively bookmarked it, it sounds obvious - but it’s an accurate representation of all the things that engaged you enough to respond to them - it’s probably a good place to start to find something to write about
  • Your internet search history - Save jokes for the end please, but anytime you’ve gone on a click hole, or Googled something because of a conversation, it’ll be here. It’s another way of looking at your thought process
  • Stumbleupon - Remember Stumbleupon? It can be easy to get distracted when stumbling, but it always throws up something interesting. Use other people’s writing as your inspiration, then make yours better.

Once you’ve done all of this research, take two opposing ideas and see what they do when they’re placed together. For example, what happens when you put an article about dog grooming next to an article about the current presidential battle? Something pretty odd - but it could be worth brainstorming around.

Then, use Portent’s Content Idea Generator to create a killer title.

If you’ve got a few hours

Try Brainwriting.

Originally created by a German salesman called Bernd Rohrbach, Brainwriting gives a brainstorming session structure. It enables you to come up with 108 ideas in 30 minutes - sounds awesome right? It does work well, as long as people are genuinely pitching ideas you can use - or if people start to develop ideas they’ve seen earlier on in the session. Often, you’ll end up with about 10 ideas you can develop or create straight away.

6-3-5 Brainwriting Method

1. 6-3-5 means: 6 in group/3 ideas per round/5 minutes per round.

2. Divide everyone into groups of about 6. Too many in a group is unmanageable,
too few restricts the generation of ideas.

3. Each participant starts with a prewritten brainwriting form. The problem to be
addressed is written at the top of the form (see example).

4. In the first round, participants have 5 minutes to write 3 ideas in the top boxes (1
per box) of the brainwriting form. Often the problem is known ahead of time and the
participants come in with the 3 ideas already developed. If this is the case, this initial
time can be shorter.

5. At the end of each round, the form is passed to the person on the right. As each
person gets a form from the person on the left, they read all the ideas on the sheet and
then add three new ones. The new ideas can be completely new, or can be variations of
ideas already on the sheet, or can be additional developments to ideas already on the
sheet. Ideas from other participants should foster new ideas. There is no talking or
discussion during these rounds.

6. The process is completed when each participant gets his own form back, now filled
up with many ideas.

With thanks to UCO for the walk-through guide.

If your deadline is in a few days

The Stepladder Technique

When stuck for ideas, sometimes it’s good to get others involved and share the burden. The Stepladder Technique is the way to go. This ideation process has a focus on everyone having their say, ensuring that all ideas are heard. It stops the loud mouth in the group dominating the session and giving the most important thing the attention; the ideas.

How to use the stepladder technique:

Step 1: Gather a group of people and give them a brief beforehand - what kind of content are you trying to come up with? What topics do you want to cover? Have a think and give people something to work from - don’t ask for anything and everything. Even if it’s as simple as ‘posts around design’ it’s still something to work from.

Step 2: Form a core group of two members. Have them discuss the problem.

Step 3: Add a third group member to the core group. The third member presents ideas to the first two members BEFORE hearing the ideas that have already been discussed. After all three members have laid out their solutions and ideas, they discuss their options together.

Step 4: Repeat the same process by adding a fourth member, and so on, to the group. Allow time for discussion after each additional member has presented his or her ideas.

Step 5: Reach a final decision only after all members have been brought in and presented their ideas.

Once this process has been completed record all of the ideas and take them further; don’t just rest on what you’re presented - is there a better angle? Or a more exciting way of presenting the idea than a blog post? Use the session as a catalyst, then put a fire under the ideas.

If your deadline is in a week:

Play around with Oblique Strategies

Created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies are a deck of cards that help you approach a creative problem differently. There’s an online version, as well as a deck of cards you can buy. If you don’t know what to do then Eno and Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies is a great way to get started. You’ve got time to ponder over your content, so use their often cryptic messages to get you on the right path.

If you’re actually organised:

Use all of these methods and generate all of the ideas you could ever need. Then, create a content calendar so you’re never caught short again! Using these methods again and again helps you to approach a problem fresh each time - and you’ll have more ideas than you can shake a stick at.


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