The bags under your eyes betray the forced smile on your face. It takes twice as long to get ready in the morning, picking the right clothes feels like a monumental chore, and in the end, you’re dressed in black anyway. Stress has overwhelmed you, hampering your ability to simply pick an outfit and now you need to come up with creative and innovative ideas.
While we’ve all experienced burnout and have developed solutions to survive it, there is added pressure if you’re in a creative field, or are faced with developing a creative solution. Unfortunately, burnout can hit when you need the clearest focus to be creative.
Some people live to work towards a deadline, crushing items off the list and squeezing a project out just in time. Others prefer to manage their time in chunks so they can methodically proceed through their days in a comfortable manner. Some people believe that their work is better when it is produced under pressure while some know their output is best when they can dedicate days on end to the task. But there are times when no matter what your style is, it feels like stress is winning and your creativity has been zapped. During these times of creative block, it is great to be able to turn to some proven tactics outlined here to help keep your head in the game, and your creativity flowing.
Waiting until the last minute to start a project was a terrible idea back in university, and it’s even worse as a professional. But that’s never stopped any client or boss from last minute requests. One of the best time management techniques is to break big projects into smaller pieces and this can help stimulate creativity every day – taking baby steps or breaking a project into the sum of its parts. By driving yourself towards daily deadlines, that rush to hit the goal can inspire new and creative thoughts on how to complete the task. Smaller steps help you to focus as you reach each milestone and once it is achieved you can then think and concentrate on the next step.
Collaborate With Others
Stress is usually caused by other people, so it might seem like working with others is the antithesis of calming stress to be creative but it can be the exact opposite. Gathering a small team of your co-workers can help you increase the opportunity for those breakthrough moments of innovation and ideation.
Allowing yourself to listen to other ideas being generated fuels your own mind. It also comes with the added benefit of removing your head from your personal situation which is causing the stress. This gives your brain a much needed constructive distraction that can help realign your thinking. Sometimes listening and seeing what others are doing – or have done – can lead you to your own innovations and creative solutions.
Loud office, text messages, emails, aggressive music and more are all competing for your attention. While you might have one eye on your work and the other on the clock counting down to your deadline, distractions sneak in and become productivity vampires. Distractions pull you away from the task and pull your mind out of the zone you worked so hard to get into.
By focusing on a single task (sometimes easier said than done while under pressure) you can improve your creativity. Giving yourself a spotlight on the task at hand can open doors of thought that you might not have expected to see. Adding in some ambient music like low-fi beats or classical have been proven to increase brain activity and also lower blood pressure, thus reducing stress. When you’re able to block out distractions your anxiety and stress go down and your mind is prone to be more creative with your thoughts.
Take a Break
Go for a walk. Seriously, get up, grab your jacket, leave your phone and go wander for 15 minutes. Doesn’t matter where, simply get outside, breath the fresh air and soak up all that is life in your part of the world. Walking is consistently touted as one of the most underrated exercises – it is low impact, improves circulation, steadies breathing and burns those extra lunch calories.
By leaving your workspace you get to leave your stresses on your desk for the time being. You can bring your thoughts along and take the time to untangle the problem without distractions during increased cardio activity where your brain is alert and firing on all cylinders. Walking is the perfect exercise to wake the brain and keep it clear enough so you can focus on one problem at a time. There’s truth to the CEO’s who constantly say, ‘walk with me’.
Immerse Yourself in Inspiration
Does music evoke emotions, photography inspire dreams, written verse transport you into new worlds? As we know, inspiration is supposedly everywhere, but when faced with a creative block due to stress, inspiration needs to be strategic and selective. Not just any song or playlist will do (Throwback Thursday might be fun to dance to in the shower but it might not inspire writing a pitch deck), and not every visual stimulation will connect to a dream. Being selective about your stimulation can help break down the walls of stress and lead to productive solutions.
In our modern connected world, keeping a selection of inspirational stimulants on our devices has never been easier. Finding opportunities to save playlists, images, verses, dances or more can help you build an inspiration library that you can turn to in times of stress. Think of it as another tool in your kit to stimulate creativity and innovation.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
This one can be the hardest, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Simply the thought of missing the mark on your tasks can send you into a tailspin of negative thoughts which can become a millstone pulling your mind down into the darkness. Get in front of the negativity before it creeps up on you. While this might sound a little like a self-help TED Talk, it is important to remind yourself that you are doing fine, strike a power pose in the mirror, find a quiet corner to practice calming breathing or simply look at some cherished memories on your phone.
The important thing is to get out of your head, to stop questioning your abilities and punishing yourself for simply being stressed. Remember, stress comes from events and actions outside of your control and while you can’t change the past, you can choose the attitude you carry into the future. Go a little easier on yourself and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your creativity and clarity of thought come back.