You’re a creator. That means you create things — books, products, speeches, art, computer programs — as part of your day-to-day life.
But what happens when the creative well dries up, and you’re no longer able to find things to write about, blog about, change, adapt, or grow? What happens when you feel like you just can’t think?
I constantly struggle with losing my creative focus and motivating energy, and I can tell you — while the following little “recipes” will help, they’re only going to be short-term solutions.
The long-term answer is simpler — and much more difficult.
I’ll mention that at the end of the post. For now, here are the 8 strategies I use to break out of the non-creative cycle:
1. Set limits
When I’m working on a project, I sometimes get in my own head too much — I remember the looming deadline, the myriad tasks I have to accomplish, or just the sheer size of what I’m trying to build.
Setting limits within the scope of the project helps me narrow my focus and opens up new creative avenues in my mind. For example, I might be working on a book and get stuck in the “puzzle” of trying to navigate my plot while pushing the story forward.
To combat this, I might try to forget about the outline and story arc for a minute and just focus on one thing: maybe my character’s shoes, or the setting, or what the villain ate for dinner. More often than not I won’t even use that stuff in the final draft, but it serves its purpose almost every time: to limit my mind to one thing for a moment while my subconscious chews on the bigger problem.
2. Remove limits
On the contrary, removing limits and widening the overall view might help boost creativity. You might imagine how your product could eventually develop into a full suite of software tools, or how your Kickstarter campaign might become a public company. Or you might just imagine what your book would seem like as a movie.
Who would be involved? What actors would you use?
3. Meditate on the result of the end goal
Rather than imagining the finish line (which is still a helpful productivity technique), imagine what the after party looks like. How will you celebrate? With whom?
Get specific (at least in your own mind) and you’ll find yourself automatically removing the “lack of creativity” stumbling blocks from your mind.
4. Get creative earlier in the day
It’s been proven that most of us are more creative earlier in the day, due to our natural circadian rhythms, eating habits, and daily workload. For that reason, you might need to get an earlier start on your creative projects. Block out emails, phone calls, and anything else before 10 am or later, and see what happens.
Force yourself to wake up earlier — that’s what I need to do!
5. “Batch” your output
Don’t work in long, tiresome stretches. Like the natural circadian rhythms of human sleep cycles, we work best by breaking up a task into segments, with shorter segments of rest in between. The Pomodoro technique is the current popular methodology, but you can set up your own schedule pretty easily. I also love David’s website about productivity, and I use his productivity tools (free) every day.
The idea behind “batching” you output, as the Pomodoro people put it, is to give your mind enough time to get “in the zone,” without draining your energy. When you reach the end of a session (their technique uses 25-minute sessions and 5-minute breaks), the timer goes off and you must remove yourself from what you were doing. This leads to two things:
- You want to continue working. This is the “magic” of batching: you’ll want to keep plugging away at a task, and the timer will help you focus on the finish line.
- You don’t want to take a break, but you do anyway. Breaks are nature’s rehabilitation, and these mini 5-minute breaks really go a long way.
If you’ve ever been stuck on something, lost your creative drive, or just feel empty, try to “batch” part of the project in this way. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is, and how well it works!
6. Schedule downtime
More than anything else on this list, scheduling downtime is a must. Many creative people can put up 100+ hours of work per week, but then realize they’ve totally neglected their family/friends/life.
Don’t do this. Schedule a decent amount of downtime, and when you’re not on “work hours” (9-5 for me), make sure you’re only working when the rest of your family/friends/life is not going to care.
7. Read something
I’m an avid fiction reader, which I why I started writing fiction myself. What’s funny is that I often feel like if I’m not working actively on something (aka writing), I’m wasting time. Therefore I’ve found myself reading fiction much less than I used to, which sucks.
My new MO (modus operandi) is to try and read at least a page of fiction every night before bed. Not marketing theory, not church communication strategy, not nonfiction at all. Fiction.
And I chose the hard-to-reach goal of one page because it’s ridiculously easy. No matter how tired I am, I can always read a page of a thriller or suspense novel.
The benefit to my creativity is usually indirect in this case, but it’s beneficial nonetheless. I often finish reading and ask myself questions about the writing: Was that an effective way to describe that character? How could I have done it better? Can you really kill someone like that?
You get the point. Reading something — usually fiction — can jumpstart the creativity and get the juices flowing.
What do you think?
What have you done to increase your productivity? Share in the comments!