I have a reoccurring conversation with my Grandma. It’s not word-for-word every time, but generally goes along this line:
Grandma: “How is everything going at work?”
Me: “Great, thanks! I’ve been working on this new branding project / document design / event identity for X / Y / Z…”
Grandma: “Oh my. I don’t know how you come up with new ideas all day! I just don’t know how you do it!”
I always find this quite humorous. My Grandma is such a practical, pragmatic person who grew up in very different times, where creativity was the last thing on her mind.
Regardless of whether you are a creative person or not, we all have our creative energy ‘slumps’. How do you maintain creative energy when the immediate, day-to-day tasks take up so much of your steam?
Here at Flux, we have a few go-to solutions when we get creative block:
1. Make a plan
We have made a habit of making this the first thing we do at the start of the new year. Our minds are at their freshest after some much needed rest and relaxation.
We sit down with a pen and paper (getting off screens when we can!) and think about the bigger picture. What do we want to achieve this year? Knowing what you are aiming for really helps to give you focus. Do you want to grow your business? Target a new industry, type of project or client? Accomplish a particular side project that you have a passion for?
Once you have worked out your overall goal, break it down into smaller, achievable tasks. Then you can mark out exactly how you can make this happen over the course of the year, which doubles as a cheat sheet to refer back to when focus dwindles.
2. Set realistic goals
When you’re feeling inspired and setting goals, it’s tempting to set yourself big challenges. After all, isn’t accepting challenges one of the great keys to life? I’m always up for a challenge, but have found myself disappointed after biting off more than I can chew on many occasions. This can be counter-productive, leaving you feeling disheartened and even less motivated than before!
Something we try to factor in when setting goals at Flux is the unexpected. There will always be unforeseen tasks that pop up out of the blue, so don’t set yourself up for failure from the get-go.
However, goals are good to keep you motivated and focussed. Ask yourself honestly, what is doable? Can you see how you can chip away at this goal while keeping all the cogs turning and all the balls in the air?
When you set realistic goals, you are more likely to achieve them—leaving you feeling satisfied, accomplished and more motivated for the next goal.
3. Get inspired
Think about your attitude to work over the last few days. Do you feel energetic and excited about your current projects, or have you just been ‘going through the motions’? If the answer is the latter, it might be time to take yourself out of the office and get inspired.
Stepping away from your screen and taking in some culture can help give you perspective and broaden your mind. Here at Flux, we are lucky enough to have the Adelaide Central School of Art and their gallery right below our office! Art exhibitions in the gallery downstairs provide us with a continual source of inspiration. So get outside and visit an art gallery or museum, listen to music, read a book or simply flick through an art or design journal.
On the surface it might feel like you are wasting time, but creative ‘input’ is essential for creative ‘output’. As New York Times bestselling author Austin Kleon writes:
“Appreciating (input) is the first step towards creating (output), and too often today we emphasize output over input.”
4. Take a break & celebrate
This one sounds obvious but in our fast-paced culture, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly filling in your time. The problem is, this is counter-productive—while you feel like you need to be constantly working or being productive, you’re not giving your brain the time or space to think deeply. That’s why some of the best ideas and creative thoughts pop up when you are relaxed and least expect it—for example, when you’re in the shower, about to go to sleep or going for a walk.
After a few months of chipping away at your goals, take some time out to stop, acknowledge how far you have come and celebrate your (and your team’s) achievements. As Adam Grant, author of the bestselling book Give and Take, says,
“A sense of appreciation is the single most sustainable motivator at work.”
Make sure the scale of the celebration matches the achievement level. Complete a daily task a few hours early? Shout yourself a coffee. Complete a major project on time and budget? A team lunch might be in order. Reach a sales target 3 months before the end of financial year? The drinks are on you!
During this much needed break, take a step back and reflect on the finished project or challenge. Reflection is an important but often overlooked key to productivity, and helps you to identify strengths, weaknesses and more efficient ways of working. As author Jocelyn K. Glei writes in her article Take A Load Off:
“In order to stop doing busywork and start doing our best work, we have to make a point of scheduling in regular time for reflection. We have to celebrate, appreciate, and analyze our past performances, so that we can synthesize what we’ve learned and apply that knowledge to take it up a notch next time.”
So rather than pressuring yourself into constantly working in the name of productivity, give yourself a break. Reflect on your accomplishments. You deserve it! And who knows—it might just give your brain the space it needs to produce your best idea yet!
5. Have fun
With tight deadlines, email overload and a growing list of tasks, it’s easy to let stress get the better of you. However, don’t forget the importance of fun and humour in the workplace.
Laughter truly is the best medicine, and has been found to lead to more advantages than you might think in the workplace. Humour helps to create a positive culture and leads to more productive workplaces, which author Michael Kerr explores in his book, The Humor Advantage:
“Having a sense of humour (at work) is about adopting a spirit of playfulness and fun … It’s about embracing a sense of balance, a sense of perspective and a sense of humanity … Humour is a way of interpreting and filtering the world around us,” Kerr writes.
So go on, show your colleague that hilarious Jimmy Fallon YouTube clip you saw last night—it will increase well-being, relieve stress, and help create a happier workplace, ripe for creativity!