Tips for Unlocking Those Creative Juices

I’m not an entertainer or an artist. However, I am in a role where my clients and colleagues look for me to be creative and offer fresh perspectives. It’s a little like being “on-stage.”

The team members who can spark an interesting conversation or generate a new way to look at a problem add so much energy to the work environment. I mean, who doesn’t love the person who brings new ideas and can approach a situation in a clever way?

When the creative juices are flowing, it makes work more engaging, invigorating and fun! When there is a drought in those creative juices, it feels like trudging through a desert!

I’ve been in that desert. How about you?

When I reflect on my personal experience, I notice a few factors that tend to trigger my feeling of depleted creative energy, along with recommendations to get things flowing again. Here’s my list:

Factor #1: Feeling the pressure to “knock their socks off” – expectations are high, and I must strive for perfection.
RECOMMENDATION: Come up with many solutions, not just one. Create a  list of 20 possible solutions; your mind will stop fretting over finding the perfect one. Then buddy up with someone you trust and bounce the ideas off them to get their reaction. Sometimes it helps to go to a relaxed public setting for some brainstorming with your colleagues – no idea is a bad idea at this gig. When you narrow your options, sleep on it. There is something powerful that happens in our brains when we stop consciously thinking about something and allow our subconscious to do some work. 

Factor #2: Getting trapped by my thinking – making assumptions and approaching the problem in a familiar manner. The classic case of limited thinking.
RECOMMENDATION: Begin to question my assumptions. Ask “What if … ?” Look at the situation from a different perspective. How would a child look at this? How could I explain this to my grandmother? I love what Matt Cutts talked about in this TED talk: Try something new everyday for 30 days.  This activity can get you out of a rut and open your “what’s next” mindset. Another option is to shake up your surroundings. Go work in a different location, take a road trip … or just go for a drive and listen to a podcast or book.

Factor #3: Being over-committed with little downtime – rushing from one thing to the next without any time to unwind, relax and allow my mind to wander.
RECOMMENDATION: Get some sleep! (see #1). Beyond sleep, take the time to pause and reflect on how you are spending your work day. What is causing you pain? Are you making time for the “creative work” during your peak productive time of the day? Can you set aside one hour in your day to deal with email, so you don’t get sucked into work that is not YOUR priority? Block out some me time on your calendar – and honor that time. 

Factor #4: Feeling overwhelmed – feeling paralyzed by too much information, options and obligations.
RECOMMENDATION: When there is something new, or you are bombarded with information about a client situation or new project details, it ‘s hard to know where to start. Blocking out quiet time on the calendar to sort through it all in an orderly manner with limited interruptions can be a life saver. Get organized. Be mindful in summarizing notes and use a simple naming structure for saving files so that it’s easy to find for future reference. If it’s difficult to say “no” and you are taking on too much, look for opportunities to delegate or renegotiate expectations or due dates. Here’s a bold idea (which may cause big-time anxiety for some) – turn off the phone. I’ve done it, and newsflash – everyone and everything I cared about were still there when I turned it back on!

“Creativity is a spark. It can be excruciating when we’re rubbing two rocks together and getting nothing. And it can be intensely satisfying when the flame catches and a new idea sweeps around the world.” ~Jonah Lehrer

Whether you think your job calls for creativity or not, being creative is a result of good work habits. It’s the process of learning and reinventing yourself. We are all works in progress so why not create along the way!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com

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