When we think about the word “limit”, it usually comes with a negative connotation. It means there’s a cap to what’s possible.
Sometimes however, imposing a limit can be really helpful when we’re trying to find a creative solution to a problem. It forces us to think differently and use the resources available to us. Often, when we’re faced with a blank canvas where the possibilities are limitless, we become paralysed.
So what limitations should we impose on our work?
The most common limitation is time. We’ve all experienced this from being young at school. You had to get to school on time, the homework had to be in the next day and the school play had to be ready by a certain date. This prepared us for work, where the client or boss needs something completing by a certain time.
When faced with a deadline, people get things done. When it’s not optional we usually find a solution one way or another.
Set Yourself a Deadline
If the problem you’re trying to solve currently doesn’t have a time restriction, set yourself a date and time when it needs to be completed by. Create a schedule by working backwards from this date and set micro deadlines for each task. Make these deadlines non-negotiable. If you’re serious about these deadlines, you’ll find a way to meet them.
When we limit the resources available to us, it forces us to become resourceful with what we do have. It makes us think in ways that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
One of the most common resources (other than time) is money. This may already be a limitation for a lot of us, but try to limit it even further if possible. You may need to borrow tools from friends and family or use your local library for books. Do you currently have anything that could be repurposed to make something new?
Limiting the space that we have can make us think creatively about how we use it. A good example is a room in a house. This naturally has spacial limitations. If you want the room to fit a certain purpose, maybe even multiple purposes, you have to think about the objects you place in the room. How big are they, can they serve more than one purpose, what’s the most efficient way the objects can be arranged in the space, how will they be used and does the arrangement make the room easy to navigate?
The same can be true when creating something on a two dimensional surface, like a sheet of paper. By setting limits on the page size we need to think about the best way to solve the creative problem inside the space that we do have. This may mean cutting non-critical items that you may have otherwise added. It may also mean that you need to change the concept altogether.
Sometimes we don’t have the best tools for the job. How else could we cut the wood in half or draw a perfect circle?
Limiting the tools could lead to a more effective solution. For example, if designing a piece of artwork or an advert, limiting yourself to one or two colours or using only one brush could be a refreshing change.
This can also apply to disciplines like writing. Limiting your word count will make you think about what you really need to include and edit out.
Give It a Try
The next time you’re trying to solve a creative problem, try imposing some limits on the project. You might just find a solution you weren’t looking for.