One of the biggest issues I’ve consistently faced in any endeavor I embark upon is maintaining consistency.
I will start my goal with passionate momentum, I’ll make sweeping progress, and like anything that is low on fuel, I will thus stall, and in worst case scenarios, burn out, stranded on the side of the road without a gas station in site.
Fortunately this occurrence is so universal that most creative professionals can collectively identify and relate to this as (insert profession here)’s block. And there is a certain comfort in knowing that when we do run out of gas, that we are not alone on the side of the road. Millions before us have too experienced the inevitable, sometimes debilitating creative block and then ended up with one of two results: they found the fuel they needed to keep going or they burnt out and quit.
Below are a few ways I have found my fuel to keep going.
1 | Prepare for the inevitable
Creative blockages are as guaranteed as death and taxes so preparation is key. When you know a storm is coming, basic survival keys tell us to stock up on the necessities just in case of disaster. So if one day, you find that you are experiencing a stint of productivity or inspiration, try to capitalize on this constructive vibe by creating as much as you physically can and placing the products in reserve. This is ready-to-go content that requires little to no preparation when needed. These are your creative canned goods.
So, on the days when your brain goes AWOL, you have plenty of fuel to fall back and sustain yourself on. One may keep a few spare unpublished articles that can quickly be edited or published at a later date or an artist may keep a few sketches or designs on hand as foundation for a project that can easily be tuned up at another time. No matter how long they sit in the back of the shelf collecting dust, they never expire and are always ready at a moment’s notice.
2 | Create a blockage template
One of the unique attributes of the creative profession, is that it rarely allows for one to run completely on autopilot, as creatives are expected to constantly churn out new and unique content. The inability to autopilot is a gift and a curse, as any passionate endeavor should usually be done with full mental, physical and spiritual presence, but it can be a bit of drag when you just literally can not today.
Creating a preemptive blueprint for slow brain wave days helps fill in the blanks that creative blocks tend to create. Templates can provide a skeletal outline that can briefly allow exhausted brains to switch to autopilot without being unproductive or spurious. A personal go-to article style, design template or wardrobe choice does half of the work you so that you can switch to cruise control.
3 | Create a realistic routine
If your mind grows used to doing something, like brushing your teeth or using deodorant, it becomes a natural habit, making it less of a hassle to make sure it gets done on a regular basis. If you are accustomed to performing the same task at the same time every day, it will become a routine that you will easily gravitate towards regardless of your mood.
Training our actions to become habits, however, should be approached with a degree of concrete realism, so that it is easily and rationally adapted into your routine. It is a bit too abstract, and thus rarely habitual, to set out to routinely paint a masterpiece after you get out of the shower or to write a feature length article because that’s just what you do everyday at 10:30am.
But creating rational, easily repetitive habits that are foundational to these efforts can increase the chance that these grander results occur with more frequency. For example, I may endeavor to implement a habit to read each morning followed by an entry in my journal, or to allocate 30 minutes to draw in my sketchbook, or to meditate before starting my day. These kinds of easily-adaptable habits can facilitate the mindset and building blocks to contribute towards our overall goals.
4 | When planning, zoom out and then zoom in
Plan according to deadlines and then prioritize the fundamental tasks according to importance. We often do our scheduling in accordance with day-to-day, hour-by-hour scheduling, which is effective when my day stays chronologically on task. But then there are days where I guiltily glance at my planner, which is seemingly taunting me with a list of unchecked and past-due tasks.
I have found that first setting an encompassing deadline helps me eyeball the timeframe within which I need a certain task completed. This places my task in the context of a larger block of time rather than allocating it to a specific hour on a specific day. Over-specifying my schedule will make me feel defeated and rushed if the task is still incomplete past that specific window.
So rather than saying this article is due to publish at 5pm, I will see something a bit more like three articles that need to be done by the end of the week. But you can’t stop there, as an abstract schedule can often lead to “I’ll do it somedays” which most often turn into nevers.
So you zoom in. After understanding my larger timeframe, I list my top three weekly tasks and, further, my top three daily tasks. This allows for a bit more flexibility in how I accomplish things. If I have an hour or even a day that is just void of productivity, I can usually look at my top three and either rearrange them through my day/week making sure they still fall prior to the deadline. Or when I am feeling completely sluggish, being able to quickly note my top three priorities, usually allows me to muster up the energy to at least accomplish those and save the rest of my to-dos for a better day.
5 | Breathe.
Many times, when we hit a productive glitch, it’s just our mind/body/soul telling us it needs a break. Chugging past these signals will turn a stall into a complete blowout. Allow for time to decompress and revitalize.
6 | Have a go-to for inspiration
The most discouraging part of a creative block is the sheer uselessness and lack of motivation that plagues our entire psyche. But pitstops don’t have to be futile. If you can fill this time with inspiration, you’ll be back on the road in no time. Whether it’s a place, a song, a journal, make sure you visit it when you need an inspiring refuge while you are recharging.
7 | Explore the source
Even though creative blocks are inevitable, rarely should they ever be chronic. If you have a longer lull than usual, there may be some underlying cause. The culprit could be a number of things. Analyzing your overall stress levels and wellness may reveal an area in your life that may need a change. Once you have identified the source, try to moderate, detox or completely uproot its influence in your life.
8 | Keep your goals and objectives clear
Blockages that turn into burnout can turn our entire mindset into such a state of frantic nothingness that we often forget where we were headed or why we started going there in the first place. Keeping your objectives in front of you is paramount to getting back on the road, completely refueled with motivation. Keep your goals and/or inspiration in an easily accessible place so that you can maintain your sense of clarity and focus.