Struggling to get those creative juices flowing? Get 11 ways to move past a creative block and reignite your inspiration, energy, productivity, and creativity.
People who choose freelance life and business ownership choose to blaze their own trail, often because they have big ideas and big dreams. They are inherently creative people who see a different way to do things, have an alternative way of thinking, and simply want to do better.
If you’re a freelancer or business owner, chances are high that you’ve chosen to surround yourself with other like-minded people — both in who you spend time with and who you’re connected to online. If you’re like me, you probably follow a lot of talented, brilliant, creative people. They post beautiful samples of their work, they share insightful commentary, and they always seem to be creating something.
Most of the time, this provides the inspiration you need to get your own creative juices flowing. Other times, when you’ve hit a wall, you’re stuck, and your creativity is depleted, it feels like a kick in the teeth — as if everyone else is more creative than you are.
The thing is, creative people aren’t always creative.
Even the most creative people have days where the flow doesn’t quite flow, the groove can’t quite find its rhythm, the creative juices dry up, and frustration bubbles up as a white screen or blank sheet of sketch paper sits mockingly in front of us.
It’d be awesome if these lapses in creative ability only happened when we had free time in our schedules and no immediate client deadlines but that’s not how it seems to work. Often seems like sudden drains on creative reserves happen when we’re buried in projects and up against major deadlines with no wiggle room in our schedules.
Unfortunately, even when you’re not feeling it, the work still has to get done. To protect your brand, you still have to have to honor your commitments, deliver on your promises, and produce great work. And what happens then?
- What happens when you’re not feeling creative and you have to get things done?
- What happens when you try to force it, the creativity still doesn’t come, and you start to fall behind?
- What happens when your frustration turns to worry and stress and your work becomes a weight on your shoulders you can hardly bear?
- What do you do?
You need options and tactics to help you get back in flow, bolster your creativity, get your groove back, and find inspiration again!
How To Tap Into Your Creativity When You’re Not Feeling It
I began my graphic design career back in 1998 when I began tackling small design projects and handling client revisions for the agency owner I nannied for. I’ve now been working as a graphic designer and web designer for 21 years, and I’ve owned my agency for 14 years. And you can bet your booty that I’ve experienced some serious creative roadblocks.
- I’ve sat at my desk, staring at a blank screen and trying to force creative thought, only to realize everything I was doing was total crap.
- I’ve struggled to find the motivation and inspiration needed to design on deadline
- I’ve had projects take hours longer than they should have because creativity and ideas were slow-coming and I just didn’t like anything I was creating.
I’ve since learned that “forcing it” and slogging through a creative drought is never the answer. It zaps your energy and productivity, causes frustration, and drags out tasks for far too long.
The answer is embracing and acknowledging the creative drought. You need to recognize that it’s happening and give yourself permission to take a break and walk away so you can reignite your inspiration, energy, focus, and of course, creativity.
Here are some of the things I do when I’ve hit a creative roadblock and need to get past it quick:
1. Walk Away And Take A Break
Stop what you’re doing, take a break, and go do something else. Shift your focus and energy to something menial that will keep your mind busy for a while — clean your office, wash dishes, do the laundry, wash your car, organize your files. Then come back to your project later. Often, that burst of activity and the positive feelings that come from getting something done will be just what you needed to get back to work.
2. Get Moving And Get Outside
The outdoors always does it for me. Being outside — lush plants, pretty flowers, blue skies, warm sun, chirping birds, babbling water, a cool breeze — nourishes my soul.
When I am stuck and making no positive progress, I love going for a walk, relaxing poolside, riding my bike, or taking a hike. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes, getting outside helps me relax and let go of stress, tension, and frustration.
3. Grab A Coloring Book
When I was a kid, I cherished that moment of opening a brand new box of sharp crayons and starting a brand new coloring book. Still to this day, it makes me smile. Coloring brings me peace and quiets my mind. It stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses, and creativity.
When I’m coloring, my mind wanders around decisions about color and composition and makes important connections about other work that’s tucked away in the back of my mind. Coloring is one of my favorite things to do when I need a mental break — and with adult coloring books topping bestseller lists, it appears I’m not alone.
4. Play A Strategy Game
I love board games — games that make you think and scheme, and plan and get creative. It’s just the right amount of distraction, it’s fun, and I have always loved seeing the look of joy on my kids’ faces when I walk out of my office on a workday and say, “Let’s play a game!”
5. Play Legos And Build Something
When you’re stuck in one creative rut, use your brain to focus on a different type of creativity. A creative activity study from San Francisco State University demonstrated that people who play with creativity apart from their normal work do better work and are better at dealing with stress.
The Guardian reports that Lego is a toy for tinkerers, for designers, artists, and storytellers and that many CEOs of major companies admit to using Legos to reduce stress and refocus their minds. Playing with Legos is wildly satisfying.
So get out your Legos and build. Whether you’re assembling a set or you’re free building, create something. Build something. Accomplish something with your imagination.
6. Exercise And Sweat It Out
Nothing gets your energy up and your mind focused quite like exercise and sweat. When I exercise, I am more productive, more creative, and more focused.
Exercise boosts alertness and sharpens awareness with an increase in blood flow to the brain. It helps prevent illness, back pain, and joint pain. It also helps you feel better and improves your state of mind, making the stresses of work easier to handle because your brain releases serotonin, which in turn stimulates your mood and emotion.
7. Browse Inspiring Design Work
When feeling uninspired, I look at other design work — and not just graphic design or web design examples. I look at architecture design, landscape design, and interior design. I browse “best of” design blog posts and search Google for a random keyword paired with “design” to see what I get. There are so many beautiful and interesting visuals and crazy talented people that there is no shortage of visual inspiration to be found.
8. Read A Book Or Magazine
Another way to shift your mind and change your perspective is to read. I always have at least one business book and one personal, fun book on hand to read. Reading expands your knowledge, inspires thought, creates conversation, and often provides an escape. If you don’t have time to dive into a book, grab a magazine. I subscribe to a variety of business, design, and home/cooking magazines, all of which inspire me in different ways.
9. Design Something For Fun
When you design for a living and you spend all day designing for others, with no time for creative play, it’s far too easy to let the joy that comes from personal design projects slip away. Sometimes, when you’re running on the hamster wheel of client work, completing one project after another, you forget why you love what you do.
The daily grind can erode creativity and the enjoyment found in creating, designing, and building. It can turn work into a constant state of checking boxes and completing tasks rather than doing inspiring work.
So stop. Stop the client work and design something for fun. Make something for fun. Build something for fun. Do something no one else gets to have a say in and do it because you love it. Do it to remember why you chose this field, this path, this career — and then do it some more.
10. Don’t Go At It Alone, Get Help
Working 12+ hour days, 6-7 days a week, and pulling all-nighters isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a reflection of poor personal management, time management, client management, and project management. It brings to light problems that aren’t being dealt with like undercharging, overdelivering, not setting clear expectations, not enforcing boundaries, and not accurately estimating workflow and timelines.
Don’t be a martyr. Get help.
- Reach out to peers and friends and ask questions.
- Get a mentor or a business coach and ask questions.
- Join a mastermind group and ask questions.
- Identify tasks you can delegate or automate.
- Then take action and create change.
You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how much more creative you are when you’re not burning the candle at both ends and you have support to help you grow and improve.
11. Take A Nap Or “Sleep On It”
You have probably woken up in the middle of the night with a great idea or had a lightbulb moment in the shower right after waking up. Many famous creators claim their big ideas came to them in a dream. But there hasn’t been any scientific, experimental evidence of the power of sleep–until now.
In 2004, Nature published a study titled “Sleep inspires insight” by Ulrich Wagner And Associates. In the study, participants began by solving a series of puzzles. They then took an eight-hour break and came back to another round of puzzles with a secret rule, that once discovered, made solving the puzzles much easier. During the break, some participants stayed awake and some slept. Those who slept were more than twice as likely to discover the rule!
Fast Company reports that sleeping gives your body a chance to deal with everything that happened during the day, repair itself, and reset for tomorrow and that studies of napping have shown improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, and memory performance.
- A study of 23,681 Greek men over six years showed that those who napped three times a week had a 37% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
- Jane Langille writes that naps can improve many things: increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhance your sex life, aid in weight loss, reduce the risk of heart attack, brighten your mood and boost memory.
- Another study shows that the right side of the brain — the creative side — is far more active during a nap than the left side, which stays fairly quiet while we’re asleep.
So go ahead, take a nap, sleep on it, and feel good about it!
You Need To Fuel Your Creativity
For most of us, creativity isn’t like a light switch. It can’t be turned on and off like the flip of a switch whenever you want. As with productivity, creativity has natural ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re in tune with it and in the groove, and sometimes we can’t quite find the tune.
And that’s okay.
Creativity is like a muscle. You need to exercise it, work it, flex it, and stretch it.
The key to getting past a creative roadblock is to recognize that it’s happening and accept it. Don’t force it or try to push through it. Instead, take a break, get outside, color, play a game, play Legos, exercise, look at design work, read, design for fun, get help, or sleep. Do something different that helps you refocus and re-energize your mind.
Trust me, you’ll be more productive and you’ll get your creativity back — it works every time!
This is an updated version of Creativity Doesn’t Always Come Naturally.