Be honest – do you always feel inspired at work?

For people working in creative position, inspiration and creativity is everything. They constantly need – and their job requires this of them – a steady flow of ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bright idea, something groundbreaking or something that just gets the job done. People in creative jobs need to feel inspired in order to be able to work.

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Still, there are times when they feel they’re stuck and not getting any ideas. The dry spell they go through when that happens is referred to as the “creative block”.

But the thing is – the creative block isn’t just for creative types. No matter what field you work in: project management, product management, cooking, education, software development or you name it – at some point you’re bound to feel like you’ve hit that same dry, uninspiring, dull, lifeless spot.

So, what can you do to beat it?

The traditional list of strategies for overcoming the creative block

We’re pretty big on facts backed by research these days. Even if there are skeptics, we’re generally more likely to consider something seriously if it is supported by evidence. And there’s no shortage of evidence lately.

Yes, there is a hint of sarcasm there. If you take some time to search, you’ll find evidence that supports both a fact and its opposite. For instance, there are studies that show that coffee is bad for you and there are studies that prove that coffee is good for you.

Back to the creative block. According to various studies and research, these are the most popular ways to break out of a rut:

  • Go outside
  • Go offline
  • Take a shower
  • Dance
  • Watch a movie
  • Call an old friend
  • Drawing
  • Get moving
  • Read a book/magazine
  • Look for inspiration
  • Change the scenery
  • Travel

The problem with traditional strategies

Thing is, most of these strategies address a symptom and not the actual problem. If you take a closer look: going for a walk, going out in nature, disconnecting, getting moving – all those are different versions for taking a break. Also, they are all necessary for a healthy lifestyle. They shouldn’t be quick fixes for when you’re so exhausted that you cannot come up with anything new.

Whether we like it or not, we have limited brainpower. Our brains need regular downtime to recharge and to rest. When we go on overload with a thousand things to do, our brains literally don’t have the resources to come up with any new ideas. So it’s only kind of natural that we get stuck.

How creative work really works

Part of the problem with the creative block stands in the way we see creative work. Or work in general. There are two misconceptions that got passed down from generation to generation.

The first one is about muses. Writers, painters and other artists in Greek and Renaissance eras relied on muses for inspiration and ideas for their work. If the muse didn’t exist, it was close to impossible to create. The second misconception comes from the Romantic era. Artists from this period needed to be in a positive state (love) in order to create. But feelings, like inspiration, come and go.

However, there is a different approach to creative work. Albeit, it’s not as sexy as muses or as feeling good. But it’s a strategy that does pay off in the long run. The approach I’m referring to is showing up for work each and every single day, no matter how you feel: inspired or uninspired.

If you want some big names that have used this recipe, think Pablo Picasso. He believed that “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Likewise, Henry Miller is known for saying that “When you can’t create, you can work”, acknowledging that there’s more than one side to creative work.

How to stay on track

So, I first said that taking breaks is important. Then I said consistent work over and over again. What’s the idea?
The point I’m trying to make is that in order to keep getting ideas, you need a healthy, balanced, consistent approach to your work. Balance is key for keeping your creative juices and you work apetit flowing. Too much work and you risk burning out and getting stuck. Too little work and you’ll start relying on inspiration and last minute ideas to actually get stuff done.

There is no magical recipe for balance. Everyone has a different balance point. What works for some people might not do the trick for others. Also, as you grow professionally, your balance point tends to go higher as you can do things more efficiently.

Schedule time for work, but make time for play as well. Even Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy does it. (We recommend checking her insights from her TED talk from our blog post)

Ultimately, that’s what really makes you a professional.

The professional & the amateur

Because of the evasive nature of inspiration and the muse, creative work has been dubbed as something less constricted by rules and limitations. Artists do their work by craft and by talent and somehow those happen as magic.

But artists need to practice in order to develop their craft and in order to grow their skills. And herein lies the difference between a professional and an amateur. Amateurs are people who rely on luck to create. Professionals, on the other hand, know that the more they work, the better their chances of becoming successful.

Likewise, professionals have a process. Amateurs work as randomly as possible. We know what you might be thinking – “I’m an artist, I don’t succumb to rules”. Or “How can I keep my creativity flowing if I’m following rules or processes?”

Anything worth achieving requires work. Hard work. Yes, there are some individuals that are luckier than others and they get away with little work and they make it look sexy and like anyone can do it. But those are the outliers. They’re not the usual case.

Also, you make the switch from amateur to professional consciously. Making the upgrade from amateur to professional is a decision you need to make for yourself. You decide that it’s your life, it’s your work and you’re going to take it seriously. It’s up to you how you implement the change, but you need to make the decision first.

And you can take it from a lady who’s done a thing or two in her life. Maya Angelou – “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it, the more you have”

One more thing

Additionally, before any major breakthrough happens, everything stalls for a while. Nothing seems to be work, not even the things that once did.

So, if you are going through a dry spell, don’t despair. Show up every day, constantly and consistently and at some point, you’re guaranteed to make some way forward. Just remember to take good care of yourself in the meanwhile 🙂

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Laura Sima

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