I’m a graphic designer with a full-time job requiring creativity and problem solving. Ideas are highly valued, but so is productivity. Becoming creatively blocked is always a hazard not just for designers, but for writers, speakers, software engineers, and anyone working on a project requiring sustained focus. None of us can afford wasting time stuck and spinning our wheels.
There are many ways of getting stuck, and each of them requires different techniques. Here are three different ways we can get stuck, and my favorite methods for getting unstuck from each of them.
Even though we end one day on a satisfyingly productive note, sometimes the next day we don’t know how to start. It could be the very fact that we finished everything that has got us stuck. What seems like a natural ending point is in fact a barrier that we’ll encounter the next time we start work, and unfortunately we won’t have any momentum to overcome it.
Hemingway wrote, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.” Not only is this good advice for novelists, but for anyone working on a big ongoing project.
If we end the day knowing what to do next, we avoid starting the next day with a barrier in front of us. We’ll know exactly what needs to be done when we start again, and there will even be an urge to finish the unfinished.
We can be incredibly productive whizzing through our email, but when it comes time to do our true work we can’t focus. This is because the quick decisions and short tasks we were doing put our brains into what Leo Babuatu of Zen Habits calls The Brain’s Fast Mode.
When we’re stuck in Fast Mode we can’t settle down to focus or deliberate, and quickly jump to distractions like Twitter, Candy Crush Saga, or looking aimlessly in the fridge. What we should do instead is find a way to put our brains into Slow Mode, the mindset that allows us to think more deeply and be in the state of mind needed for writing, designing, and problem-solving.
The most successful way to get unstuck from Fast Mode is to take a walk. Not only does going for a walk serve as a break from sitting at our computers where we so easily get pulled into Fast Mode, walking itself puts our brains into Slow Mode. A second technique to reconnect with our Slow Mode is to take a pad of paper and map out ideas by hand, write longhand, or sketch. And a third way to get unstuck from Fast Mode is to relocate to a coffee shop or empty meeting room where the new atmosphere can give us a new state of mind.
Can’t come up with ideas?
Everyone has their own favorite methods for generating ideas, but occasionally our tried and true techniques will let us down. Whenever I find myself stuck for ideas, I use the list technique from designer and educator Christopher Simmons:
- Start with a title at the top of the list so you will stay focused on why you are making the list
- Write as fast as possible and use short words or phrases
- Don’t be critical of any item on the list at this point. The time for editing comes later
- Write down your “dumb” or obvious ideas. It’s important to get them out of your head so they don’t bock the way for the more interesting ideas bouncing around in there.
Becoming creatively blocked is a hazard in our work. When we can’t start, can’t focus, or can’t come up with ideas, we need reliable methods for getting unstuck. I hope these favorite tricks of mine help you.
What techniques do you turn to when you’re stuck?
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RELIABLE METHODS FOR GETTING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY UNSTUCK by Virginia Haenni http://goo.gl/JW8aoP #theartistunleashed #writing