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Last Updated on December 30, 2018

How to Be Creative When You’ve Hit a Creative Block

How to Be Creative When You’ve Hit a Creative Block

How do you think of creativity? Is it something that you are either born with or not? Does it mean that you are dominated by the right side of your brain? Is it a skill that can be taught? Or are you stuck with the amount of creativity you were born with?

The truth is, creativity is much more complicated than most of us think. And if you’re wondering how to be creative, you need to understand what blocks you from being more creative first.

Can You Think out of the Box?

Creativity is generally defined as the ability to “think outside the box”. Researcher Bob McKim came up with a simple way to determine someone’s creativity:[1]

First, he had them draw 30 circles on a piece of paper. He then gave them 1 minute to turn as many of those circles into recognizable objects as possible. A person might make one a smiley face, another a sun, a stop sign and so on.

    The idea here was that the more circles that you could use in just 1 minute, the more creative you were. Most people started hitting that creative wall after about 10-15 circles. After all, there are only so many commonly found round objects that you come across everyday.

    But the most creative people didn’t let that stop them, they started filling in the circles as snowmen (no one said you could only use one circle!), stop lights and even clock faces showing a different time in each clock. These where the people thinking outside the box!

    But the question remained, was this just a talent that was handed down through random genetics or was creativity something that could be taught and acquired?

    Luckily, later research involving FMRI studies gave us a much better understanding of what parts of the brain are involved in creativity, why creativity can become blocked and what we can do to break through that blockage.

    Getting over Different Causes of a Creative Block

    Whether it’s called creative block or writer’s block, it’s the same thing. You are tasked with some sort of creative project and you find yourself staring at a blank screen with no idea where to start.

    It always helps to know where the blockage comes from (it’s much easier to fix!) but many times we just don’t know why we have it. Here are some common causes:

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    1. Fear

    This is one of the most common causes of creative block. Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough (impostor syndrome), comparing yourself to other’s in your field. These are all good ways to give yourself creative blocks!

    The good news is that all of these fears mean that you are growing in your craft. Just think about it for a minute, when you did your first job or got your first article published, what were you feeling then? I’ll bet it was a feeling of accomplishment along with pride! You probably weren’t comparing yourself to others who may have been more successful than you.

    So now look at your latest finished project, I’m betting that it’s of much higher quality than your first one. You’ve grown in your craft since that first experience, you now have higher expectations of yourself and it’s just human nature to compare ourselves with others.

    So don’t worry about it, just understand that these fears are natural and you can use them to motivate yourself to continue to grow in your craft.

    2. Catastrophizing

    “I’m never going to get this done in time”, “This is way too much work for one person”, “I’m not as good as I use to be, my best days are behind me”

    … These are all negative (read unhealthy) thoughts running through your head. And unfortunately your body follows what’s in your head.

    People who ride motorcycles understand this phenomenon because motorcycles “go where you look”. When turning on a motorcycle you always want to look past the curve. In other words, you need to keep your eye on a point beyond the curve that you want to reach. If you are looking straight ahead, you’ll end up driving strait through the curve and crashing.

    It’s the same with creativity, you need to look past the obstacles in your mind and focus on where you want to be. Wherever your mind is focused is where you’ll end up.

    Remind yourself that you’ve done projects like this before and have been successful. Look back at prior achievements, hang awards and certificates on your wall to remind you of past accomplishments. Remember, your body is going to go where your mind takes you.[2]

    3. Paralysis by Analysis

    This is a common one on especially big projects. There are generally a lot of things involved with a lot of moving parts that have to be synchronized. This is a “Where do I even start” situation. It is also common for both writers and artists to to suffer from this particular block.

    When starting a big project, prioritization is the key. Develop a timeline for the project that can both measure your progress and provide motivation to get things done.

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    If you’re a writer suffering from writer’s block, the hardest part of most projects is just getting started. You may have a topic in mind, but have no idea how you should write the introduction. This is an easy one to fix, write the article you want to write first and once that’s done you can go back and write the introduction. After all, it’s easier to introduce what an article is about after it is written!

    A similar trick is good to use if your an artist. First, just draw a random line on your canvas. Next, just stare at it, this is your starting point, your next step is to finish what you have begun.

    In both examples we’re just using little tricks to get us past the most difficult part of any project, the beginning.

    4. Lack of Motivation

    It doesn’t matter what you do or how much you love what you do, there will eventually come a time when your motivation starts to go down the drain. This can happen for a variety of reasons: your working atmosphere, coworkers, a bad boss or just a boring project.

    I have been an entrepreneur most of my life because I couldn’t stand the stifling atmosphere of corporate America. I love being an entrepreneur with all of the time and money advantages it brings, but I hate the accounting and taxes involved.

    Life is a trade off, and so it goes. You have to decide where your lack of motivation is coming from and what (if anything) you’re willing to do about it. If it’s a bad boss or coworker problem, freelance maybe a good option for you, just remember those other problems that come with it. If it’s a particularity boring project, you might just want to stick it out and ask for something more challenging next time.

    Finally, if your just burnt out, take a vacation. Even a stay-cation where you don’t even leave town but check into a resort for the weekend can help. Anything that will take you out of your normal routine will help.

    This guide will be helpful for you to stay motivated too:

    What Motivates You And How to Always Stay Motivated

    5. Too Many Distractions

    In today’s modern world, we have more distractions than ever. With rent, mortgage, taking care of the kids and a spouse, dealing with health problems — that’s just the normal stuff! Now add in Facebook, and other social media platforms as well as a phone you carry around with you so that people can get in touch with you 24 hours a day. It’s a wonder we get any work done at all!

    As a creative individual, we aren’t always the best at organizing our time. Our brains tend to be a little more free flowing which helps us to deal with problems as they come up.

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    Writing down and sticking to a schedule will help a lot with this issue. Decide that you are going to work on your project from 9am to noon without interruption. Then turn off your phone and do it. When noon rolls around, turn that phone back on and deal with all of the everyday issues that would have interrupted you while you were working.

    Here’s another guide to help you deal with distractions:

    Easily Distracted and Hard to Focus? Try Doing This

    5 Techniques to Work Through a Creative Block

    Earlier we went though some scenarios that are common causes of creative block along with solutions for each type. But a lot of times we no idea what’s causing our blockage. Even in those times, there are things you can do to get through your creative block:

    1. Do Things Backwards

    This is the most important way to be creative when you’ve hit a creative block.

    Start brushing your teeth with your non dominate hand, wear your watch upside down, carry your money in a money clip instead of a wallet (or visa versa), write backwards (Leonardo Da Vinci employed this technique). These things will not only break you out of your normal routine, thus giving you a new and different perspective.

    Studies have shown that the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres called the corpus callosum is bigger in creative people. By doing these things deliberately, you can actually increase the size of the corpus callosum, increasing your overall creativity.

    2. Let it Go

    This may seem counter intuitive but here’s the deal: All people in a creative field have been stuck at one time or another. Then in the middle of the night, or when you’re playing golf or at the movies, you’ll all of the sudden get that “eureka” moment. That moment when the answer just comes to you out of nowhere.

    Well, it really didn’t come out of nowhere, you had been working to solve the problem so intently and for so long that your brain got stuck in “the box”. This happens to everyone and it’s not something that we can consciously control.

    The only way to break out of this cycle is to stop thinking about it consciously and let our subconscious mind take over.

    3. Get Some Exercise

    This is another way to stop thinking about the problem and let the subconscious mind take over, but it has the added benefit of increasing blood flow to the brain. (Oh yeah, and it’s good for your heart too!).

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    Sometimes we forget that our minds and our bodies are connected[3] in ways we don’t realize.

    4. Be Willing to Change Your Perspective

    When I first started out in business and started to hire employees, I noticed a pattern that developed with all of them. They would all start out excited and eager to learn the job. I would train them as to how I wanted things done, as part of our service was to give every customer consistent experience.

    But after a few months, I noticed that they weren’t following the script. Each one was giving their own version of the store tour and our products. The worst part was that I would watch them do it and not say anything because while everyone would deviate from the script, they were small deviations.

    The end result was that there was no consistency for the client. I addressed it at meetings and was always met will nodding heads but their behavior never changed. I ended up calling a mentor of mine and telling him my issue. His advice to me was to change my perspective.

    This isn’t a matter of employee who aren’t doing their jobs right. This is a management issue (considering I was the management it didn’t feel too good). These seemingly insignificant deviations from the script affected both my livelihood and the livelihood of my employees.

    So at our next employee meeting, I explained that every one was expected to work off the same script and once again, I was met with nodding heads. The very next week, two employees got fired for deviating from the script and all of the sudden, compliance to my directive went to 100%.

    The entire situation was my fault for allowing it to begin with, but I needed someone else’s perspective to solve the problem. I was seeing the problem as employees not doing what they were suppose to be doing; and my mentor pointed out that the real problem was my management style.

    5. Always Carry a Notepad

    You never know when inspiration will strike, so always carry around a notepad to write down ideas.

    Now in this new digital world we live in, if you want to use the note feature on your phone, or record voice messages instead, then be my guest.

    The point here is to make a record of your ideas and inspiration, just relying on our memories almost never works and you’ll be much more productive with a record that you can go back at look at.

    The Bottom Line

    Creative ideas don’t come from an “eureka” moment, there’s a lot you can do to get over the creativity block and spark creativity. Figure out where your creativity block comes from and tackle the cause with my suggestions, soon you will find yourself getting the momentum to stay creative all the time.

    More Resources to Boost Your Creativity

    Featured photo credit: Bench Accounting via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    David Carpenter

    Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

    12 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities How to Be Creative When You’ve Hit a Creative Block How to Start a Company from Scratch (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Live up to Your Full Potential and Succeed in Life How to Change Your Life at 60 Years Old and Feel Proud of Yourself

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    Published on January 16, 2019

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

    How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

    We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

    You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

    You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

    That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

    Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

    1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

    Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

    We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

    To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

    At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

    The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

    2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

    Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

    The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

    In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

    It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

    It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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    So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

    • Are you a great strategist?
    • Are you an effective planner?
    • Is Project Management your strength?
    • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
    • Are you the ideas person?
    • Is Implementation your strength?

    Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

    3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

    One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

    Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

    Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

    Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

    4. Take Time for Planning

    “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

    One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

    You can take the time to think about:

    • What’s the purpose of the project?
    • How Important is it?
    • When does it need to be delivered by?
    • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
    • What are the KPIs?
    • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
    • Who is working on this project?
    • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
    • What tolerances can I add in?
    • What are the review stages?
    • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

    Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

    5. Focus on Priorities

    Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

    Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

    One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

    1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
    2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
    3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
    4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

    James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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      The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

      If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

      If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

      6. Take Time Out

      To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

      If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

      Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

      In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

      Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

      7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

      Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

      I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

      Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

      If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

      8. Stop Multitasking

      Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

      So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

      When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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      If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

      9. Work in Blocks of Time

      To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

      I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

      Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

      Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

      Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

      Then take another 10-minute break.

      Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

      By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

      10. Get Rid of Distractions

      Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

      “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

      Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

      If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

      11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

      You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

      Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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      Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

      12. Take a Time Audit

      Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

      Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

      You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

      Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

      Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

      At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

      If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

      13. Protect Your Confidence

      It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

      When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

      Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

      When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

      Final Words

      A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

      The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

      If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

      Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

      Reference

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