When I started my marketing job, I was excited for an opportunity to do something that I love to do. But I found myself facing creative blockages more often than I thought I would. It was one thing when creativity was purely for fun, but being creative on-demand was more challenging than I ever imagined.
Fortunately, I’ve learned some habits that have helped me to be creative when I need to be and balance that creativity with my other job activities. Hopefully these tricks will help you to become more effective in your creative position!
1. Create separate time and space for tasking vs creative activities.
Rather than allow myself to switch tasks too often, I set aside specific timeslots for uninterrupted brainstorming. If you have the option, sometimes it can be helpful to move to a conference room or some other spot to help your brain recognize that you are shifting focus.
Another trick I’ve learned is to separate my brainstorming time from the time I actually spend turning that idea into reality. Once I’m in my creative flow, I don’t want to break it. I use that time to generate as many ideas as I can, and I write down all of the details. I’ll revisit the list at a later time and put in the work to make those ideas happen. Doing this allows me to get the maximum output from a burst of creativity without wasting time on tasks that could just as easily be performed later.
2. Make sure your overall lifestyle is suited to performing well at your job.
Getting regular exercise in my free time helps me stay focused at work. It helps if the exercise is intense – since I’m sedentary most of my day, I really need a strong adrenal boost to maintain a good energy level. In addition to working out, I try to take a brisk 20-30 minute walk during my break. I also occasionally do stretches or standing yoga poses in the bathroom stall to keep my blood flowing.
Eating right is also key (although in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m eating a bag of M&Ms as I write this – I plan to chug some water and eat some carrots to balance it out). I used to be able to get away with less nutritional meals, but now I quickly feel the drop in my energy level if I haven’t been eating properly. Also, choosing the right snacks can be the difference between facing a severe afternoon blood sugar drop or going strong all the way until the end of the day. I like to snack on things like raw veggies with hummus (broccoli is especially good for your adrenal levels), hard boiled eggs, and nuts. Proteins and dark greens are a good choice when you need energy.
3. A change of scenery can go a long way.
If you’re sitting at the same desk staring at the same thing every day, your creativity is going to suffer. It’s easy for your thinking to fall into a pattern. Breaking up that pattern is the best way to help your mind move in a new direction.
Getting away from your desk and moving around can really help. When I’m feeling stuck, I’ll pick up my camera and walk through our various departments looking for creative projects to photograph. It helps wake me back up, and the scenery change helps me regain my ability to think outside of the box.
As an added bonus, the conversations I have during these walk-arounds usually unearth some creative ideas that my coworkers have. Don’t be afraid to ask your co-workers for ideas – often you’ll find they’ve been hiding some great ones. Just make sure you give them the credit when their ideas work!
4. Learn to “birth” ideas rather than force them out.
It’s important that you are setting up the right conditions for creativity. When that lightening strikes, document that idea (more on this in the next bullet point), but keep in mind that this idea might not be ready to share right away. Keep returning to it and allow it to develop further. One day you’ll realize that it is ready to go, and you’re ready to present it to the world.
Now that I’ve started this process of nurturing my ideas, I have a running list of every idea that has come to me. I scan my list regularly, developing the ideas that aren’t quite ready yet and moving forward with the ones that are. I also have a file called “DRAFTS” that contains a bunch of half-written blog posts. Sometimes I’ll be inspired to write part of a post or to create an outline, and I’ll return to it later and flesh it out.
5. Keep an idea notebook.
You never really know when inspiration will strike. That’s why an idea notebook is so useful. Keep it at your desk so you can document things easily. Sometimes I’ll have an idea while working on another task, so I’ll jot it down for later.
6. Create an inspiration file.
Sites like Pinterest and Behance are a great source of ideas, but having an actual real-life file is the ultimate inspiration. I work for a printer after all, so why wouldn’t I want to look at actual printed items? Whenever I find a cool print project, I put it in my file. Often, our graphics designer or my boss will give me something interesting, and I’ll add those to my file as well. Looking through these projects is a great way to get out of a creative rut.
What habits help YOU stay creative and focused at work? Share them in the comments below!