Regardless of our Myers-Briggs label, our income, or our self-esteem, the feeling of a creative block (especially when you’re under pressure) is painful and can feel like it will last forever. Case in point: I’m writing this blog post to try to get myself out of a rut right at this moment. I would swear it’s been hours. In truth, it’s been 6 minutes.
If you find your creativity stifled by feeling uninspired or anxious, joyless or just perpetually sad, the first step is to acknowledge your emotions and feel them all the way to the end. Nothing else will work until you’ve processed your emotions.
Once you’ve done that and you’re ready to tackle your next creative project, start at the top of this list and work your way down, or pick and choose the ones that feel right. The biggest thing is just to try something.
- Sleep – Ok, I know you can’t just say to a client “Sorry, I can’t get that to you, I need to nap” but you can decide that today is the last day you go without sufficient rest. The fact that you need to replenish and so you’re reading this blog post tells me that what you’re trying isn’t working – and I’m guessing what you’ve tried so far is either “getting mad at yourself for your failure to produce good work” or “working through the blocks but still getting nowhere” or “procrastinating at a level where even sloths would be proud” or (most likely) a combination of the above. Getting proper rest is the only way to have your brain ready make the connections and get into the flow that creativity needs. So go take a nap. Then come back and read the rest.
- Read fiction (or nonfiction) consciously – Reading is always a great idea when you need inspiration. It allows your brain to get a workout and doesn’t stifle the creativity like watching TV does because you have to be imagining everything that happens…no images are fed to you. That being said, just the action of skimming and scanning doesn’t do much. It’s the comprehension and conscious processing that will get you fired up with ideas. When you read and find yourself drifting, don’t put the book down. Read slower, read out loud, take notes — whatever it takes for you to be sure that you’ve grasped what you just read.
- Do something small – paint nails, move furniture around – Often when you’re faced with a big project that will tax your creativity it seems to hide, shut down, or refuse to help. Coax it out, and calm yourself by taking on little creative tasks that have no repercussions at all. Write a letter or a poem that will never be seen. Create a plan for your dream office that you’ll eventually build maybe. Paint your nails or cook a new recipe. Do something that requires the act of creating but doesn’t have strings attached. Pretty soon you’ll be on your way to tackling your project with new ideas!
- Sit in stillness for longer than you want – “Meditate for an hour every day unless you are too busy. In that case meditate for two hours.” Sitting in stillness, even if you’re not focusing on the breath, has profound effects on your mental health and your productivity. From “Whitespace at Work” to “Thinking Time”, the idea of sitting in stillness to promote creativity has been around and rebranded regularly for centuries. While you are sitting in stillness your brain has time to integrate information, process old sensory data and especially to prioritize. Even just 30 minutes of stillness during the work day is enough, especially when you’re in a work environment that requires you to switch tasks (or GASP multitask) regularly.
- Avoid working at your less creative times – Some of us are morning people. Some people’s brains don’t even turn on until noon. And some get their creativity on when the sun goes down. No way is better, (well, we morning people are probably about 3% more awesome than other people) the important thing is that you find the time that works best for you and use it appropriately. So often we waste our best creative time on emails, social media scrolling, and other super unproductive can-wait-until-later things and then try to tackle the creative stuff when we’re already used up. Determine your most productive time, and then protect it at all costs.
- Change your scenery – I know we can’t really travel these days (for future readers, the world is still paused due to Covid19) but a change of scenery doesn’t mean hitting the road. If you’re stuck, even changing from one room in the house to another, or one side of the room to the other can be enough to break you out of a rut. Take a walk – even just around your back yard or around your office building. If you’re really, really stuck it might be time to grab a notebook or dictation device and head out to the great outdoors. Don’t overcomplicate, just try to change what your eyes are seeing.
- Move your body in enjoyable ways – Some people get amazing ideas during CrossFit classes. Others (cough cough) are just trying not to die. Again, this is about listening to yourself. Having spontaneous office dance parties is kind of the norm for us, and we really think it should be the norm everywhere. If yoga is your thing, that can be part of your stillness. If a long walk or run or lifting will get you out of your head and out of the weeds – do it! Experimentation without judgement is key here. Your mileage will DEFINITELY vary from others’.
- Arrange your space to suit where you are right at this moment – If you’re working from home in a less than idea space or if your cubicle is starting to close in on you, or if you’re in an open office concept (although those are likely to fade away as the new normal becomes clearer) there are still things you can do to make your space work fro you right now. You might need to purchase good quality noise cancelling headphones. You might need a few plants. You might need a routine where you change your dining area from eating space to work space and back again. Whatever your space looks like, and whatever your work style, your creativity is depending on your immediate environment – and that environment often gets zero TLC (especially if it is in a typical office where your purchases are likely to need approval). But it’s worth it.
- Think big for a few minutes. Really really big. – The zoom-in-zoom-out approach has been catching on and for a lot of people it’s a game changer. The middle of eery project, day, relationship, process, habit formation – you name it – is messy. Often what you need to go deeper is to zoom in. Way in. As in “What is the one task I need to do right now?” If that task is dependent on another pre-task, then do that one. If that one is dependent on another one, do it. All the way back to your starting point, and out of the messy middle. Once you’ve figured out the next best thing to do, and you still can’t get there due to anxiety or overthinking, allow that overthinking to zoom out. Way, way out. Like all of human history, all of time and space, all of the molecules in the theoretical multiverse, or the stars in the sky. Get some perspective by placing your task, your anxiety, and your overwhelm into proper perspective, and get out of the messy middle again.
- Unitask (the opposite of multitask) and do one thing deeply – This might be last on the list, but thats because we REALLY want you to remember it. Multitasking kills your productivity, your creativity, and your mojo. Getting deeply into your task will allow you to make connections, generate ideas, and synthesize new data like you are a freaking machine. Flitting at the surface level of five different tasks will have you never reaching the nirvana that is “completion.”
Have other ideas? Drop a comment! Want to know how this works with content creation? Get in touch! Want more HALA? Join the mailing list!