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How to Overcome Creative Blocks

How to Overcome Creative Blocks

Creative blocks are the bane of every artist’s life, but the harsh truth is that if you’re doing something even remotely creative, you will almost certainly encounter some form of mental block at one point or another.

Whether you consider yourself a writer, painter, blogger, or entrepreneur, it’s helpful to have a few tools up your sleeve that will enable you to combat creative blocks and overcome them as quickly as possible. Here are six tips you can use to get your creativity flowing again:

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1. Journal

Journaling can help you overcome creative blocks in a number of ways. Stream-of-consciousness journaling helps you get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, clearing your mind for the task at hand. As a creative block is essentially a thinking rut (in other words, a stuck thought pattern), you can also use specific journaling techniques that encourage your thoughts to flow freely. Free association encourages you to be receptive to unconscious thoughts and suggestions: Begin with one word or phrase, then follow on with the very next word or phrase that comes to mind, then the next, and so on. Don’t over-think your words—simply wait to see what comes up.

You can also use another fun technique called Lists of 100. This involves writing a list of 100 items to do with a certain theme, for example, a list of 100 places I’d like to visit, a list of 100 things I own, a list of 100 things I’d like to own, a list of 100 people I’d like to meet, a list of 100 things I’d like to do before I die, and so on. Your list doesn’t have to be related to work: the point of this suggestion is to encourage you to think around a certain topic and transition out of your usual way of thinking.

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2. Change your scene

Changing your scene can do wonders for overcoming creative blocks. Take your work outside, to a local cafe, to the beach, or wherever you can go that feels new and unusual as a working environment. If you usually work on a laptop or computer, try working through the project using traditional pen and paper, or dictate your thoughts into a voice recorder. Any activity that encourages your mind to think in a different way can be helpful.

3. Brainstorm

Brainstorming has a similar effect to making a List of 100: It encourages you to think about all possible options, then choose those that are most realistic and doable.

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For an effective brainstorming session, start by listing everything you can think of in relation to the topic. Include the impossible, the wacky and the downright insane. It’s really important to make sure you get everything you can think of onto paper, no matter how silly it feels, to get it out of your head and get a different perspective on the task at hand. Once you have all your options on paper, you’re in a much better position to take a step back and look at each decision one by one.

4. Develop a routine

In his must-read book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield highlights the importance of routine in overcoming resistance. Having a regular routine can also help us overcome creative blocks: When we experience these blocks, it can be tempting to take a step back and say “This isn’t working, I’ll come back to it later”, but sometimes, the most effective way to overcome a block is to grit your teeth and experience it. Even if your imagination looks more like a barren wasteland than a magical factory, show up every day, sit there and experience it. You’ll overcome any creative blocks much more quickly if you turn your creative sessions into a routine than if you step back and simply wait for your creativity to reappear.

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5. Accept it

Creativity is an unconscious process. As much as we might will it to appear (and as much as having a routine helps), sometimes it won’t. There’s nothing wrong with that—it doesn’t say anything about our individual creative ability, and it’s not necessarily a sign that something is wrong either.

Fighting a creative block, berating yourself or judging your artistic integrity is not going to help; in fact, it’s likely to make the block even more prolonged. Instead, accept that the block exists, try to remove any internal judgements you might have surrounding it, and see it for what it is: a mind rut. However bad it feels, it will pass, and you will create again.

What are your tips for overcoming creative blocks? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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