All work requires some level of creativity. While it’s obvious how professional artists, writers, musicians and other “right brain” types incorporate creative processes into their work, even fields as technical as programming or SEO include creative components. Writing code, for example, requires a certain level of creative foresight to envision how individual elements will come together into a final, finished product.
But unfortunately, creativity isn’t something that can be counted on to function properly at any given time. Plenty of us have experienced the thrill of a “flow state” – in which ideas and thoughts pour forth in an easy, effective way – but for every minute of productive creative work, we’re likely to experience an equal number of minutes spent staring at the computer screen in the throes of a creative block.
When you find yourself in this frustrated state, don’t panic. Instead, try any of the following strategies for getting over creativity blocks as quickly as possible:
1. Take a break
Stressing yourself out over your perceived inability to get anything done won’t help the situation. Instead, give yourself permission to take a break and return to work when you’re feeling mentally refreshed and ready to get down to business.
2. Go for a run
One of my personal favorite techniques for busting creativity blocks is to go for a run. It’s a great way to get your blood pumping through your body and the endorphins necessary for creative work flowing again.
3. Get some exercise
Of course, running isn’t the only way to regain your lost productivity. Hitting the weight room, going for a hike, taking a martial arts class or doing whatever your favorite type of exercise is are all great ways to achieve the same effect.
4. Take a nap
Naps aren’t just for preschoolers anymore! In fact, when you take a quick 15-20 minute nap when you’re feeling overwhelmed, your brain is able to rebalance your sodium and potassium levels, which can become skewed following periods of stress or frustration. It’s a quick and easy way to feel refreshed and get back to a productive state.
5. Have a glass of wine
There’s a reason plenty of creative professionals turn to alcohol. By removing inhibitions, you lose the critical voice in your mind that often stymies productivity. Just don’t go overboard here – have a glass of wine to jumpstart your creativity, not an entire bottle!
6. Work on a different project
If you aren’t making progress on one project, give yourself a mental break by focusing on an entirely different task for a while. Doing so can help you to gain perspective and insight on how to better approach your initial, “stuck” endeavor.
Taking the time to help others who are less fortunate than you are can help you to keep the challenges of creative work in perspective.
8. Create an “inspiration file”
As you encounter articles or images online that make you feel motivated, add them to an online “inspiration file” that you can reference whenever you feel stuck. In my opinion, one of the first articles you should include in this file is Leo Babauta’s “The Half Step That Will Change Your Life.”
9. Watch a movie
Give yourself a brain break by taking the time to watch a movie you really love. For even better results, look for movies with inspirational messages and avoid ones that leave you feeling depressed about the state of the world (I’m looking at you, Requiem for a Dream…).
10. Watch TV
If you don’t have the time to commit to a movie, watching a single TV show can be a great way to unwind. Some of my favorites for this technique include Shark Tank and Mad Men – two shows that make me want to get back in the office and work harder.
11. Treat yo’ self
I’m not above self-bribery. Sometimes a little pick-me-up purchase is just what I need to get back on track at work.
12. Change your work location
If you’re feeling frustrated, changing your work location can make a surprising difference. If you work from home, take your laptop to a coffee shop or co-working space once in a while. If you’re office-bound, reserve a conference room for a few hours and see if the change of scenery makes a difference.
13. Hang out with friends
Taking time out of your day to spend with friends and loved ones is a great way to recharge your batteries. Plus, if you hang out with other intelligent, creative people, you may find that these contacts have surprisingly good insight into how you should handle your creativity blocks.
14. Listen to motivating music
I don’t care if it’s the theme song to Rocky or Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” – if there’s music that moves you, harness this energy to help blast your way through creativity blocks.
15. Cook a new recipe
Cooking new recipes is a soothing way to get your mind out of creative mode. Simply follow the instructions and you’ll be rewarded with a (hopefully) delicious meal – and, possibly, the added insight that comes from letting your mind wander while preparing ingredients.
16. Read industry blogs
Whenever I’m feeling stuck, one of the first things I do is take a few minutes to read through popular SEO blogs. Seeing other people in the industry doing such cool and interesting things always makes me feel more motivated to get my work done.
17. Sketch out your ideas
Even if you aren’t artistically-inclined, drawing your ideas out on a sheet of paper is a good way to engage your creative side and work through complex challenges.
18. Enlist an accountability partner
Accountability partners are the people who keep you on track – whether they’re your friends, family members, colleagues or random third-parties. If you’re ever struggling to make progress on a major progress, tell your accountability partner what you plan to accomplish at any given time and have him or her hound you to be sure you stay on track.
19. Set milestone rewards
To make creative projects easier to manage, set milestones that denote important steps on the way to completion. Then, establish rewards you’ll receive when you hit these mini-goals to encourage yourself even more.
20. Run errands
It can be hard to get things done at work when you’ve got domestic errands hanging over your head. So if you’re totally stuck on a project, getting out of the house to run errands can be a necessary part of clearing your mind in order to return to work engaged.
21. Handle administrative work
When you feel unable to tackle creative work, try shifting your attention to administrative projects that don’t require tremendous focus instead. As with running errands, this can help to clear your mind enough to return to the creative tasks at hand.
Take a few minutes to sit quietly and push all thoughts out of your head. You may find it helpful to use soothing music, candles or yoga postures to help eliminate frustration and return to creative work.
23. Play with your pets or kids
Tossing a ball around with your dog or spending a few minutes horsing around with your kids can be an incredibly refreshing way to remind yourself why you work so hard.
24. Take a shower
I’m not sure what it is about the shower, but it often seems like this is where my best thoughts occur. Even if it’s the middle of the day, jumping into the shower for a few minutes is a great way to get your creative juices flowing again.
25. Declutter your office
Finally, a cluttered office often leads to a cluttered mind. File any miscellaneous papers (or recycle documents you won’t need again), toss trash in the waste bin and take your dirty dishes to the sink – then see if your ability to handle creative work doesn’t increase!
Do you ever find yourself experiencing creative blocks? If so, what strategies do you use to get out of these funks and get back to work? Share your recommendations in the comments section below!