How to get over creative block (and thrive at work again)

in Tips / Self

You're fresh back from holiday. Summer feels as though it's coming to an end. You should feel geared up for another productive stint at work. But alas, you're staring at your computer screen or desk and your mind feels... well, blank. You literally can't think of a thing to write, paint, make or design. You're stuck. And the panic is starting to set in.

Relax. Creative block is common. Even the most accomplished people in the world suffer from its evil grasp. But you can shake it off and thrive again. All you have to do is find ways to overcome it. The following tips will help get the creative juices flowing once again. Because inspiration matters my friends.

1. Get outside and move

Take a break from work and get outside for a walk, cycle or run. Exercise releases those wonderful endorphins, which boost happiness, and studies have shown that moving your body can even alleviate symptoms of depression. What's more, physical activity outdoors and "exposure to nature" are known to have positive effects on your mental health.

And if you keep up a regular routine, you'll have more energy and be more productive too. So ditch that creative block by getting outside, seeing some greenery and moving your body.

2. Talk to someone and perhaps argue

Sometimes, you just need to thrash out your ideas with someone you trust. Perhaps even someone you clash with. Your discussion may unblock the mental barriers in your head, and force you to consider things from a different perspective. This could then inspire new ideas and get the cogs turning in your brain once again.

Funny enough, this is how I come up with ideas for tips articles. I ask fellow freelancers what's currently bugging them or raise common business issues, and see how they feel about things. Just chatting to others can spark new ideas.

3. Use some card games

IDEO Method Cards are used to "inspire great design" and help you explore new approaches to creativity. Brian Eno’s famous Oblique Strategies have a similar approach. And Roger von Oech's Creative Whack Pack – available as an app on the iPhone or iPad – is another great tool to get the juices flowing again. Try them all, use them often and remember – the brain is a muscle and needs regular exercise.

4. Carry a notepad

Ideas can strike at any time, at any place. So always carry a notepad or sketchbook with you. It doesn't matter how small the thought. It could just be a rough drawing or something you overhear in the street. Looking back over your notes when you're at your desk might unblock the brain and boost creativity. It certainly worked for these famous men and it will undoubtedly help you.

5. Travel and see the world

Still not feeling it? Why not travel to open the mind to new ways of thinking? The fresh air, exercise (from walking and exploring a new place) and new surroundings might inspire your next project.

It's what famously worked for Ernest Hemingway during his time in Europe, and Mark Twain – who sailed around the Mediterranean coast in 1869 – and wrote in his diary that travel is "fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

Check out our city guides in our Travel section, such as Berlin or Antwerp.

6. Turn your phone off...

...and give your brain a rest. Listen to Oliver Burkeman's Busyness Paradox on BBC Radio4 and you'll learn that although we feel busier than ever before, we're actually not. It's a myth. What we are guilty of, however, is never allowing our poor brains to switch off by constantly checking our phones. Do yourself a favour – hide your phone in the evenings, and use minimally at weekends, to give yourself a decent break from the exhausting effects of forever being online.

7. Go old-school and read a book

Ah, a good old book. The smell of fresh pages. The endless possibilities that await you. Reading transports you and brings a wealth of health benefits. From stimulating the mind and expanding your vocabulary to improving memory and boosting concentration, this old-school hobby is perfect for keeping you creative and engaging with your work.

Although creative inspiration books are great, try to dip into fiction and use your imagination – it will reduce stress and anxiety, and blow away those cobwebs.

8. Write a daily journal

Clear your mind with "automatic writing". Never heard of it? Its basic principle is that you just start writing without consciously thinking. Although it's alleged to arise from a subconscious, spiritual or even supernatural source, it's actually just a really clever way of training the brain to focus on what really matters. Like a healthy brain dump and declutter. A spring clean, if you will.

Use a handy journal app like Day One or Journey to enjoy a little automatic writing every day and overcome your creative block.

9. Have a cold shower

Can a cold shower truly boost creativity? Studies have shown that cold exposure can certainly help boost your endorphin levels, leaving you feeling energised and ready to face the day. By all means, have a hot shower, but force yourself to endure a cold blast for the final minute or two each morning and you might find the creative block is washed away.

10. Just start creating

If all else fails, simply begin to create. It might be fear of failure that's holding you back. It could be that your ideas don't feel right or there are too many hurdles to overcome. Either way, these challenges can derail your creative process, or – according to writer Tim Harford – they can make you more creative than ever. Because apparently, difficulty can actually improve our performance. Watch Tim's TED Talk to understand the advantages of having to work with a little mess.

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