My creativity has been feeling a little zapped lately. Maybe it’s all of the distractions of summer, or maybe it’s due to the countless other things I have going on in my life — but for whatever reason, I have been facing creative block in a big way. As a blogger and entrepreneur, this can be incredibly frustrating and stressful when I have a project that needs to get done.
What can we do to fight creative block and get the ideas flowing again? How do you regain your momentum after you’ve stalled and find yourself struggling to get back on track? Rest assured, there’s nothing wrong with you if you experience writer’s block or periods of sub-par creativity. It doesn’t make you any less of an entrepreneur, freelancer or “creative type”. Almost anyone who works in a creative industry is familiar with this affliction, and each person probably has developed their own toolkit of techniques for breaking through a creative block.
Everyone has a different work style and creative process, so there is no single “preferred method” for stimulating creativity. Some people are constantly cranking out ideas, most of which never make it beyond the note-taking phase, while others may go all-in on one idea, taking the time to cultivate, research and map out a comprehensive plan of action before bringing that one idea to life.
There are potential issues on either side of the coin. The person with a million ideas may need help cultivating their thoughts into actionable items, whereas the person who goes all-in on one specific idea may experience a creative block when they encounter unforeseen challenges along the way.
If you are someone who struggles with creative block from time to time, here are eight proven techniques that I have been able to rely on when I need to regain my momentum.
1. Write It Down
Start with a brainstorming session. Write down everything that comes to mind when you think about the project you’re working on. Even if a word or phrase you come up with seems irrelevant or random at the time, you never know what it could trigger in your brain later on. It could also spark an idea for someone else on your team the next time you discuss the project together.
I plan out topics for my blog posts months in advance, but I can still become stuck on what to say when I actually sit down to write the article. If I’m stuck, I start by writing down all of my thoughts relating to the topic I want to write about. Next, I either build upon those thoughts and keywords, or go online to do more research. Writing down all of your ideas is also a great resource for the next time you get stuck, because you can go back and reference your notes, triggering key ideas that may have slipped your mind during your work session.
2. Get Moving
Exercise, even something as low-key as going for a walk, is scientifically proven to fuel creative thinking. Any type of physical activity makes your heart pump faster, which circulates more blood and oxygen to all of your organs — including your brain. This can help stimulate new thoughts and get your brain back in action.
For me, going for a walk is like pressing the “reset” button my brain. Once I return to my workspace, it feels like I am starting anew. Even if it’s a short break — doing yoga, going down the street for a coffee, or running an errand — can be incredibly effective at getting you back on track. Upping your heart rate is a good way to break through a creative block and generate some more momentum for a project.
3. Switch Up Your Workspace
One of the advantages of being entrepreneur or a freelancer is that you often have the ability to switch up your location for doing work. Personally, I love to work at coffee shops, especially the ones that don’t mind if I’m there for a while. My advice is to always make a purchase, and consider leaving if it starts to get busy so other customers can have a seat. If you’re a regular at the coffee shop, management will likely recognize that you’re a respectful and courteous customer, making them more likely to cut you more slack for longer stays in the future.
Having activity around me and moving locations for change of scenery really helps to stimulate my thinking. Plus, being at a coffee shop limits the amount of time I have to get my work done, which for me, sparks momentum and creativity.
If you always work from home, consider working from a different place in your house than usual. You can also try rearranging your workspace. Shake things up by adding some new art, or increase the good vibes by adding some living things like plants, flowers, or a fish tank to your vicinity. You should also consider putting together a vision board to hang prominently in your workspace.
4. Sleep On It
If I’m really stuck in my creative process, I will review my project right before I go to bed and try to think about it as I’m falling asleep. Research suggests that sleep, specifically the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage associated with dreaming, helps organize and restructure the facts and experiences in our brain in new ways.
When I “sleep on it”, I feel like my brain continues to process the project I’m working on while I’m sleeping. I almost always wake up in the morning (or sometimes, in middle of the night!) with a new idea or a fresh perspective for tackling the project. My advice is to keep a notepad next to your bed so you don’t forget those 3 am strokes of genius by the next morning!
5. Do An Activity
Non-work-related activities are a great way to stimulate your brain. Taking a work break for a fairly time-consuming project like making dinner may seem like a waste of time if you’re working under a tight deadline, but it could actually be the best way to break through a creative block to quickly and painlessly complete your project.
The process of making dinner uses many different brain functions: finding a recipe (research), writing a grocery list (compiling data — and bonus points for your brain if you memorize your shopping list!), using various tools and gadgets for prep (execution), measuring ingredients and calculating cook time for various parts of the meal (math), and plating/serving the meal (visual/artistic). Plus, eating a healthy meal will stimulate blood circulation and give you the energy you need for tackling your creative endeavor.
Home improvement activities like trimming the hedges or vacuuming are another great way to activate your brain because they require a low level of concentration and repetition paired with mild to moderate physical activity. This allows your mind to wander and piece together new ideas. By completing projects on your to-do list, you’ll also feel a sense of accomplishment that is likely to boost your mood. You can also try detail-oriented activities, like crosswords, jigsaw puzzles and knitting, which have also been proven to be effective in boosting brain activity.
6. Talk It Out
Talking through your project with someone else is often the best way to stimulate new ideas. Personally, I spend a lot of time working by myself, but I rely on a few go-to people in my life who make great sounding boards for my thoughts and ideas.
For me, my number-one sounding board is my mother. She knows me well enough to understand my thought process and knows where I tend to get stuck. I appreciate that she’s not afraid to tell me if she thinks an idea is not going to work. My mom will take the time to tell me what she knows on a topic, and how she would approach the matter at hand. Even if I don’t agree with her perspective, it often sparks my own thought process and helps me to approach the project from a new angle.
Your sounding board can be anyone — a partner, mentor, friend, family member, teammate, coach, etc. — or your go-to person may vary, depending on the topic or type of project you’re working on. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other people when creative block is weighing you down. Choose someone whose opinion you respect and who knows you well enough to give you candid feedback. At some point, you can return the favor or pay it forward to someone else.
7. Draw Your Thoughts
Don’t worry if you’re not an artistic person — I’m definitely not! That being said, when I get stuck, drawing out the way I visualize a project unfolding can help me bring my idea to life.
When I first started my organization, Bay of Quinte Young Entrepreneurs, I was planning to build a brick-and-mortar business (which, by the way, is still in the works). However, I was having a hard time developing my idea into reality because there were so many parts of the project to tackle at once. I decided to draft a floor plan based on my vision for the space, including everything from the main workspace to my office, and even the bathrooms. This helped spark my creative process because it forced me to figure out how my concept would come to life in that space, bringing the final product I had been envisioning to reality.
Visually mapping out the project you’re working on — whether it’s a sketch, a flow chart, or in my case, a floor plan — is a great way to see your project from a different perspective, sparking new ideas and fresh momentum.
8. Know When to Step Away
If creative block has you seriously struggling to move a project forward, start by trying one or all of the above. It’s highly likely that at least one of these suggestions will be effective in helping you to get your creative momentum back. If not (and you have time to spare), set the project aside for a week, a month, or even longer.
This is a technique I use for my writing. If I start to write an article on a certain topic but I can’t get my ideas to flow, I will first try to fight my creative block by using one or more of the techniques mentioned above. If nothing seems to work, I put that piece aside and choose another topic to write about. Going forward, I will do more research or keep brainstorming on the topic I’d put on hold until inspiration strikes.
Ultimately, there is no benefit to forcing something to work when it isn’t (unless, of course, you’re on assignment with no time to spare). Trying to fight through your creative block with sheer willpower will ultimately waste energy that could be put toward more productive things. The frustration that builds will only serve to further block your creative juices from flowing.
Try out any or all of these eight ways to break through creative block the next time your project comes to a standstill. Remember, creativity flows best when it has passion, purpose and energy behind it. Be kind to your brain, respect your creative process, and you will get the inspiration and results you’re looking for.
This post is dedicated to Jessie May Tracey, the author’s grandmother.
This article was originally published on Bay of Quinte Young Entrepreneurs on 12/4/2016. It has been revised and republished with permission from the author.
Edited for republication by Meredith Reed