The concept of creativity is most often linked to the visual arts, such as painting and drawing. But a variety of professionals need to be creative: Web designers build websites to accomplish particular goals, engineers brainstorm unique ways to solve problems, and advertisers craft campaigns that encourage audiences to take action.
No matter the job, creativity requires inspiration. Before the pandemic, people would be inspired by new locations, exciting conversations, and fresh ideas. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has minimized much of that exposure to new things. It’s kept people from recharging and stifled their creativity, the effects of which are starting to show.
SPOTTING SIGNS OF BURNOUT
If you feel like you’re running on empty, you’re not alone. Research from Monster indicates that 69% of employees are facing symptoms of burnout now that most of the workforce is telecommuting. Plus, the anxiety caused by the faltering economy and lack of job security is making a bad situation worse. As a creative, you’ll want to watch out for these telltale signs of burnout:
• Procrastinating. All creatives procrastinate at one point or another, but excessive procrastination is a good sign you need to pick your projects more carefully. If you’re putting off getting something done, the quality of your work is going to suffer. You might find that you’re spending a lot of time ignoring a less-rewarding assignment when you could be doing a little bit each day.
• Avoiding restrictions. Creativity needs constraints. Even visual artists must work within the confines of a canvas, shape, file size, etc. Burnout will creep up on you if you don’t set a time and place for your creativity. Set healthy boundaries, whether that means designating a specific workspace or tackling your most demanding projects during certain hours of the day.
• Mismanaging energy. A few hours when you feel energetic are more productive and valuable than a few days when you feel drained. Instead of managing the time you spend being creative, you should be managing your energy. You probably need to take a step back if you find yourself sitting in front of a project and waiting for the clock to strike a different time.
• Feeling disconnected. It’s hard to sustain a steady workflow when you’re not excited about the work you’re doing. Creatives don’t just show up for 9-to-5 jobs. They pour themselves into projects and obsess over details. If you’re spending more time looking for freelance projects than actually working on assignments, then you’re probably burned out.
INSPIRING YOUR CREATIVITY
You might already be seeing some of these signs, but it’s hard to know what to do about them. In my experience, revitalizing your creative energy is all about breaking free from structures and routines and trying something new. This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are three easy places to start:
1. SWITCH UP YOUR TOOLS
Regardless of whether they like it, many creatives are stuck at home for the moment. It might be a while before they can return to their offices, friends’ houses, and favorite coffee shops. But even if you can’t change your surroundings, you can stave off burnout by changing the tools, channels, and mediums you use.
This could be simple, like switching from Keynote to Google Slides, but it can also be more extreme. For example, if the words aren’t coming, a writer can trade his keyboard for a pencil. If the shots aren’t stunning, a photographer can pull out her Polaroid camera. Finding a new way to work can help boost your creativity and allow you to return to tasks with renewed energy.
2. STIMULATE ALL FIVE SENSES
You probably can’t move your workspace to an entirely new location, but you can change the space you have. Try creating a unique sensory experience using things like scented candles, warm lighting, new snacks, or a few strategically placed houseplants.
Stimulating (or de-stimulating) your sense of sound is one of the best places to start. Personally, I’ve invested in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Now, when I listen to music or podcasts, I feel more relaxed and in the moment. And when I need to focus, I’m not distracted by anything else going on around me.
3. BREAK YOUR ENTIRE ROUTINE
One single change isn’t likely to unlock your creative potential — you’ll have to experiment. Shake up your routine by trying new habits, such as sitting at a different desk during the day or drinking tea instead of coffee. If something you switched isn’t working, then try again. There’s no special formula for creativity, so you’ll have to figure out what suits you best.
Let’s say you’re generally a night owl; you could try waking up early to begin your workday. If that doesn’t work, you could try taking more breaks throughout the day. It’s possible to spark creativity when you find new sources of inspiration. Although that might be hard right now, the changes you make will ultimately boost your creativity and set you up for success.
Your creative fuel tank won’t automatically refill itself unless you take deliberate steps to prevent burnout and spark inspiration. I hope the ideas shared here will both inspire and prepare you for the days to come.