What To Do When You're Not Feeling Creative
Say goodbye to wasted time, shoddy work...and maybe even writer's block!
Last week I had a piece of creative writing work to do, but I was just not feeling it.
Some of my editing is highly technical and structured, but in other cases I have a lot of creative freedom to rewrite a text. I love this type of work, and it usually ends up being some of my favorite copy! But I need to be in the right frame of mind to complete it; otherwise, I end up either wasting time or doing work that isn’t my best.
In these cases, I sometimes feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall. The project needs to be done, but I’m not being productive with my time (or my client’s) if my brain won’t work to complete that particular task at that particular moment.
If you’re in any type of creative field, you’ve probably felt the same way at some point. Even if you have a “regular” job, there have likely been times where you’re just not jiving with a certain type of task that day.
Since there’s no sense in pointlessly staring at your computer screen for 2 hours (especially when we all know this is a circular trap that leads back to Facebook…), here’s how I’ve taught myself to manage these instances.
1. Learn to recognize when it’s just not gonna happen
First, you have to teach yourself how it sounds when your brain is telling you “nope.” What signals is it sending you that actually mean, “I’m not feeling this type of work right now?”
My initial sign is distraction. Usually, I can work through a piece without having to take a break; if I’m really involved I won’t even notice how much time is passing. (This state of work is called flow, and it's definitely something to learn more about and strive for!)
However, if I notice my mind wandering, my thoughts becoming less clear, or my mouse trying to open unrelated browser tabs (bad mouse!)…I know I need to stop and get straight about what I’m doing.
For you, maybe this looks like a lag in performance or output. Perhaps you can recognize when you see yourself working slower, or when you aren’t as proud of what you’re creating. (These are both true for me too, but I’ve learned to recognize distraction as the first sign.)
We’ve all been there, and it’s perfectly fine to admit! Once you can diagnose this particular pattern of behavior in yourself, though, it’s time to start taking concrete steps forward.
Instead of an obstacle, understand that a wall can also be a sign it's time to move in a different direction.
2. STOP beating your head against the wall
The most important step on this path is giving yourself the grace to walk away when you need to. The rest of this advice will be moot if you’re going to insist on feeling guilty when you can’t focus on the task at hand.
So, this explanation is short and sweet: once you distinguish a pattern of behavior that’s leading to procrastination, reduced output/quality, or the dreaded writer’s block, let yourself switch gears.
Recognize that by refocusing now, you’re allowing your brain the space to function more efficiently later. Ideally, this
will result in returning to the work to find yourself productive and creative once again.
3. Do something else that makes you feel accomplished
This is the solution I’ve found again and again that helps me step away and return to my work feeling refreshed and ready to take on a creative challenge: intentionally complete another task that will make you feel accomplished.
It doesn’t really matter what task you choose; it can be related to your work or completely separate. The key is not the task itself, but how it makes you FEEL. Essentially, we’re trying to trick your brain into remembering how awesome you are by being a little bit productive at the same time.
For me, the task of choice is vacuuming. I live with a dog who sheds approximately 129% of his hair daily (don’t ask me how that math works, but I guarantee you it does). When I look across my living room and see clean floors instead of fur snowdrifts, I feel like I’m on top of the world.
Completing this simple housework task does two things for me. First, it reminds my brain that “we are good at stuff and can get things done.” Even if the task is unrelated to work, this small change in mindset can have a radical effect on my motivation when I return to a more challenging creative assignment.
Second, it funnels that unused energy into something more productive than scrolling through the internet. Though my work may have been delayed a bit, at least something was accomplished during the intervening time. Which, let’s be honest, is a lot more than most of us can say for the time spent on a standard mental break.
Another cool part about my vacuum-break is that it usually only takes about 30 minutes – less than an average lunch! This kind of timing is key: if you choose to accomplish a task that’s going to take you all day, this is called procrastination. So don’t go for organizing the entire garage or climbing Mt. Everest here.
Remember, what’s important isn’t the actual task itself, but the way that completing it makes you feel. Ideally you’ll choose something relatively quick that you’ve done before, which you know will give you a tangible sense of accomplishment: cooking a certain meal, folding a load of laundry, going for a quick run, or completing another type of workout.
Finally, make sure you’re doing this task intentionally. Know that once you finish, you’ll feel great about what you’ve done and be motivated to get back to work on whatever has been blocking you.
Now that you know how, it’s time to get out there and knock down those barriers! You know what you're capable of, so look for some new inspiration and move forward with a sense of confidence that what you have to say is important!
What other ways have you found to re-motivate yourself? Let us know in the comments!