Stop me if this sounds familiar: you know you've the capacity to do your job, but for some reason, your mind simply won't cooperate. You're left staring at your computer screen, dimly wondering how you'll make your deadlines. In essence, it's as though your creative well has simply dried up.
Don't panic - you're just suffering from a bit of a creative block. Everyone who's involved in a creative profession will experience it at one point or another. The trick to recovering and avoiding total burnout lies in knowing what you need to do to recharge.
That's where I come in. I've compiled here some of the best advice I've seen online regarding productivity, creativity, and writer's block. Give it a read, and see if it helps you get yourself back in ship shape.
Make Sure You're Getting Enough Sleep
Caffeine dependency is probably one of the most widespread untreated addictions in Western society. These days, we're so obsessed with being busy that we're willing to sacrifice anything - up to and including our personal health - to get more done. We subject ourselves to an endless string of late nights and early mornings, heedless of the fact that it's slowly killing us.
And of course, we feel sluggish as a result; that's where caffeine comes in. Instead of napping or reshuffling our schedules, we down a few cups of coffee to get ourselves back on track. While that might have a short-term impact on productivity, it ultimately kills focus and reduces cognitive performance.
If you feel like your creativity's been drained away, you could well be suffering from caffeine dependency. You need to start limiting your caffeine consumption, and start sleeping more at night. Take naps instead of coffee breaks, and schedule them whenever you start to feel yourself losing focus.
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep; how much you require to be productive depends entirely on you.
Do Something To Take Your Mind Off Work
If you can't focus on your job or your art, the problem might well be that you're trying too hard. Take a break, and do something that relaxes you and takes your mind off the fact that you're in a rut. This could be anything from a workout to a shower to a simple walk.
The important thing is that you create a bit of space between your mind and your work, says media producer Jen Lee.
"Space invites creativity; giving thoughts, ideas, and inspiration room to land," Lee explained to Psych Central. "The subconscious mind is always working on things for you and will often present things to you when you are doing something else." Basically, stop stressing so much and take a break.
It won't kill you, and it'll probably help a great deal.
Look For A Change Of Scenery
It's already been established on more than one occasion that clutter has a negative effect on the mind. What you might not know is that stagnation can have a similar impact. If your office has gone a long time without changing, your brain might well be associating elements of it with ideas you've already had - impeding your capacity to come up with new stuff.
"You might be struggling to come up with new ideas because your mind is associating elements of your workspace with the good ideas you've already had," writes Inc's Laura Montini, citing contributor Geoffrey James "Get yourself out of the physical location where you feel comfortable and into some place that lacks associations."
Experiment - And Don't Be Afraid To Make Something Of Low-Quality
One of the biggest issues with the creatively-minded is that they tend to be perfectionists, especially when they're suffering from a block. It's not that they can't come up with any ideas, it's that they feel the ideas they do come up with aren't acceptable. As a result, they stagnate.
"Often feeling stuck in creative work is simply a matter of being too precious about it - being afraid to let it get messy, to crack open whatever you're working on and just see what happens," writes Fast Company's Jane Porter. "That can mean letting yourself start in an arbitrary place, no matter how silly or random an idea seems, and seeing where it takes you. Not being precious about the work can often free you to be more creative."
Stop Trying So Hard
Creativity isn't something you can force out at will. It's not something you can flip on and off like a switch. It needs to flow naturally; it needs to be something you work with instead of against.
What I'm trying to say here is that if you're in a rut, the worst thing you can do is overwork yourself in an attempt to get out. The first step here is to relax. You're not going to be able to recharge if you don't give yourself the opportunity to do so, after all.
"Chaining yourself to your desk and trying to squeeze creative ideas out is like manhandling an empty tube of toothpaste," explains Porter. "You're not going to get much out of it."
Everyone feels a little drained from time to time. It's only natural. The trick is to not let that exhaustion overwhelm you - to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and give yourself the opportunity to collect your thoughts.
I'd like to wrap things up with this infographic. It touches on a lot of the stuff I've already discussed here, and offers a bit of extra insight besides.