I consider myself extremely lucky. I get to lead a work life where I constantly get to be creative. In most cases, my creativity is my paycheck. Directly. We come up with products and services, get them built and hopefully – somehow, someway – find some customers. Thanks to those customers my kids get to eat, we have cloths and shelter. All’s good.
With this constant dependency on creativity, it’s burdensome when I run out of ideas. When I get into these slumps I have a list of things that I try in order to get back on track. These are the progressions I go through – like a quarterback going through his options to make a big play downfield.
This list is personal for me, but it may be helpful for others who are stuck in temporary creative hell.
1. Change my physical venue
This is usually my first option. When I come out of the huddle of the quarterback of my creativity, this is my primary receiver. When I sit in the office all day in a creativity rut, I grab my laptop or a pad of paper and head for the hills – the hills can be my local coffeshop or a park or anywhere else. A change of venue tricks brain into thinking differently.
2. Swap my tool set
This one has been huge for me as of late. I used to think it was a personal flaw that I use so many damn tools to get things done.
I wanted to be the guy that has a single discplined way of doing stuff. Structure. There are some folks that are ALL digital and they have everything perfectly organized in tools like Evernote and Onenote.
I wanted to be one of those guys.
But that’s not who I am. I’m scattered. I have short attention spam. I need things to feel new.
I have dozens of notebooks and I download countless apps all the time out of curiosity and boredom. I take notes sometimes or write directly into evernote, onenote, IA Writer, MSFT word – sometimes even into txt files. And you know what? That’s OK. Actively changing up my toolset is a great way to get my creative juices flowing differently.
3. Play with my kids
When I put everything down and just loose myself in outdoor play with kids, I come back stronger than ever. Kids are the most creative beings on earth. Getting back to their way of navigating the world is a great way to clear out all the bullshit adult guck and build up the grows in my brain.
4. Draw Something
This is very similar to my #3. As adults we do so much self editing. It takes us longer to do things and we take less chances because we think of how we’ll look and we overstate actual consequences.
Drawing is a great way for me to get my brain to stop editing. No erasing, no trying to make things look good, just draw and see where it takes you.
5. The treadmill
Excercise is any easy one for most people. Unfortunatrely, I’m not the most natural gym rat. But when I do grab some headphones, fire up some music and hit the treadmill I am so much better for it.
I am a huge hip hop fan. But I find it hard to work and be creative while listening to it. To this day, one of the longest creative and project grinds that I’ve endured was my college thesis. During that time, I leaned heavily on jazz music. There were two songs that I specifically had on repeat that I still go to when I need a shot of creativity - Naima by John Coltrane and Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock.
Over the years I have built up a pretty strong digital jazz collection, I have also ventured into music by artists like Bonobo, RJD2 and Tycho. I find that lyrics stunt my thought as I go down the path of listening to the lyrics and wondering what the artist is trying to convey. With instrumentals, it says a mood and my brain just kind of wanders from there. They mood that the music sets is a great paremeter and creativity needs some boundries so it works well for me.
7. Visit my barber
I feel like the most dangerous man in the world when I’m fresh out of the barber’s chair. I went from getting my haircut a couple times a month to a couple times a week because of this. There’s something about just being fresh and clean that clears mind and allows me to get back to my creative grind.