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Most of us, from web designers to landscapers, are in a creative business. We live in a service-oriented economy which means that our jobs are less about procedure and more about innovation. Even jobs traditionally thought of as cerebral and process-oriented – accounting for example – require creativity in their own sphere.
Everyone from retailers, who need to wear their creative hats if they’re to compete in an overcrowded market, to school teachers (need I say more?) have to keep those juices flowing. And most of us, once in a while, run out of steam, lose the flow, get “stuck”.
For me as a project manager, writer and social media professional, creativity isn’t an option – it’s a requirement. On uncreative days I might as well just sit here and play Angry Birds all day because I’m not very useful to either myself or my customers.
But “stuckness” happens to everyone now and then, and the trick is to reconnect with the spark inside of you and light up that brilliance again. Here are a few things that work for me when the muse takes leave, from the simple to the sublime.
Try applying them in your life when you hit a creative slump and see if they give you the jolt you need to get going again.
Sometimes all it takes is the simplest of adjustments to get the gears turning again. Especially if you, like me, spend a good part of your day at a desk, just a simple shift of position can make the difference between staring blankly at your monitor and coming up with the next million dollar idea. I find this especially helpful when I’m writing.
Many a blog flies out of my keyboard when I’m standing over it rather than sitting in front of it. It helps to get out of the chair and look at the problem from 24 inches higher. The simple freedom from your chair – as psychological as it is physical – can give you just the shift in perspective you need to get your brain moving again.
So stand up, right now, and be grateful that I didn’t tell you to exercise.
Gotcha! Ok, I know, you hate exercise. I do, too. But I’m not talking about sweat-your-ass-off bicep-bulging exercise. I’m talking about a walk, or a few jumping jacks. Something that gets your blood moving, which will get the oxygen flowing to your brain, which will help clear it of the cobwebs.
Even on days when I’d rather be torn to shreds by an angry pack of hyenas than move a single muscle, it helps to get up and move. Sometimes, when I’m doing something that is particularly brain-draining, I work on it for half an hour, then hop on the treadmill for a ten-minute jog.
I’ve spent lots of afternoons working/jogging in half hour spurts. Those are the days I often get the most done, despite the interruption. Try it – take a quick walk, strike a yoga pose or run up a flight of stairs. At the very least, you’ll burn a few extra calories that you can later replace with a nice glass of wine so you can forget your lack of creativity.
Do you ever have one of those “senior moments” when you open up a kitchen cabinet, stand there staring at its contents and wonder, “What the heck did I open that cabinet for?” It’s not until you give up, go away and start sorting the mail that you suddenly remember, “Oh, right… that’s what I needed.”
Kicking your creativity and problem-solving skills into high gear sometimes requires that you give up and go away. Not permanently – just long enough so that the clogged pipes in your brain have a moment to clear and get the ideas flowing again. Leave a problem alone and tackle another one, make a few phone calls, organize your desk or cross a few small things off your to-do list.
Whatever you’re “stuck” on, stop doing it and stop thinking about it completely. No cheating! No stirring it around in the back of your mind while you’re shooting off emails. Just stop. But remember to come back! Procrastinating is not the same as waiting a moment for your momentum to build again.
Go To Sleep
Not now. But just as leaving a problem alone for a little while can help you tackle it with fresh perspective, so can a good night’s sleep and even a dream or two. Sometimes you have to give up on a task or a problem for a few days. If you’re a dreamer you may even come up with a solution while you sleep. No joke – I often literally dream up blog ideas, new opportunities and marketing visions.
In fact, this blog was fresh in my mind one morning after a week spent agonizing over my next topic. Should I rehash email campaigns? Social media? Web design? Argh! Sometimes your brain just works better when you’re not asking it to.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to keep a pen and pad next to your bed at all times, for just those moments when inspiration strikes.
Get Out Of Your Life
Sometimes you’re not trying to solve a particular creative problem or do a specific creative task. Sometimes you’re in a slump in general. When that happens, I find it helpful and inspiring to get out of my life altogether. It’s not as dramatic as all that – it just means doing something energizing, something new or something old that you love.
For me, a nice dinner with a good bottle of wine can do it (and no talk of business!) It could be a weekend baking cookies. It could be a day reading on a lounge chair in the park. Maybe you’d rather go skydiving or sit in silent meditation, visit some old friends or count the Star Wars action figures in your collection.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it takes you outside of yourself, your routine and your life for a little while. And try to keep it outside of your work-sphere. So if you’re a retailer, don’t go shopping. If you’re a painter, don’t visit a museum. If you’re a web designer, don’t pick up a book about color theory, even if you’re on a lounge chair in a park.
Switching things up will help you tackle your job more creatively.
Do Something Rote
It’s not exactly inspirational, but sometimes switching your brain off altogether and doing something rote and repetitious will give you enough of a breather to get going again.
This is a bit like “stop trying” but with a twist – instead of simply doing something else, do something uncreative. Vacuum the carpet (you’d be surprised what wonders the repetitive motion and drone can do), polish your golf clubs, sweep out the garage… whatever you can do without thinking.
Ask For Help
If you’re feeling stuck and unmotivated, grab your closest coworker, friend or whoever you can engage, and have a brainstorming session. Throw your ideas out and ask for feedback. You may find inspiration in someone else’s ideas, and even if you don’t, sometimes having a sounding board is enough to get your creativity stimulated again.
Nobody around? Try your dog, cat or goldfish. Yes, I’m about to admit that I walk around the house talking to my cats. No, I’m not a crazy cat lady (yet) but they do sit there and stare attentively and when I ask them questions, sometimes their stare is enough to inspire an answer.
Of course it tends to be a better brainstorming session when someone is there to contribute, so grab a whiteboard or notebook and your favorite human and talk it through.
Write It Down
This is one of my favorite ways to “get creative”. If something is stuck in your brain or you’re feeling particularly snarky and unmotivated, grab a pen and a notebook and write about it. Not in a term-paper kind of way. Not in a problem-solving kind of way. Rather, in a “Give me five minutes to bitch about how horribly dull I am right now” kind of way.
If you keep a journal this should be second nature. If you don’t, then just start writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, be grammatically correct or even be legible once you’re done. The act of writing your thoughts down helps you process them from your brain through your hand and gives you a minute to slow down.
Your brain may be whizzing at a mile a minute, but your hand can only scrawl so fast. You’re forcing yourself to work through the problem one word at a time.
Even if you don’t come up with any creative breakthroughs by the end of your writing session, you’ll probably feel better anyway.
Play Loud Music
Are you a heavy metal fan? Country music buff? Secret Neil Diamond groupie like me? Whatever your pleasure, turn it up. If you’re at your desk, throw on some headphones. If you’re in the shower, sing along as loudly as you can. Music has been shown to affect the physiological functioning of the brain and can stimulate specific moods, memories and states of being.
So whether you get your groove on with some Gaga or secretly know the lyrics to every Justin Bieber song, turn it up and let it work its magic.
Last week I asked my Facebook and Twitter friends what blog topics they’d like to read about and the answer came back overwhelmingly in favor of chocolate. Full disclosure: I talk about chocolate. A lot. Cookies, cake, dark with Espresso beans, whatever. And why not? It’s inspiring. It’s delicious. It’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s even art, and if you eat the right kind it’s practically a health food!
For me, chocolate is my not-so-secret indulgence and in a pinch it’ll cheer me up every time. I haven’t met very many people who can look a good chocolate bar in the eye and resist, but if you’re one of the rare few, then choose another favorite indulgence that will give your brain circuitry a little boost.
Do Something Creative
What? Aren’t we trying to get out of a creative slump? Aren’t we feeling uncreative and blah? When forgetting, distracting, indulging and stimulating don’t help, try plain old doing. But do something different.
If you’re trying to design the perfect landscape layout for your back yard, take out some calligraphy pens and write a poem instead. If you’re trying to write a poem (or even a blog!) dig out your first grader’s colored pencil set and draw a landscape. The point is to do something creative without being goal-oriented.
In fact, every creative person should have a cabinet, closet or drawer somewhere with creative stuff. I find it’s helpful to have a box of 64 crayons on hand at all times (I’m known to harbor the occasional coloring book, too). Colored pencils are great, as is charcoal, calligraphy pens, glue and even play-dough.
In fact, I want you to ask yourself right now, when was the last time you sat down with a can of lime green play-dough and had yourself a good time? Unless the answer is “last week” it’s probably been too long. Heck, I’ve even got a great recipe for making your own if you really want it!
So find your inner child and go create something. Then use it to decorate your space so that next time you’re in a slump, you can look at it, smile, and feel a little more inspired.
There’s only so far you can go in business with process, management and even good business skills. Sometimes what you need is more ethereal. Call it motivation, inspiration or finding your muse, but it’s what keeps you going and drives you to succeed.
So when you get stuck and find yourself staring into empty space, try one of these little tricks or try a few and I bet you’ll get back on track in no time.
Do you have any favorite tricks for getting unstuck? I’d love to hear about what motivates you!