Why Creative Ruts Happen and What You Can Do About Them

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Photo by Lukasz Dziegel on Pexels.com

Falling into a creative rut can feel like the end of the world, like you’re stuck in a dense forest with no sign of water, food or life. When they happen, you can do one of two things: fight them to the death, or embrace them.

Ruts are not a bad thing, says author and freelance journalist Kristin Wong. They serve a useful purpose, prompting you to question your life goals and career aspirations. Ruts, she says, reminds you that you are human after all, not a machine.

Other creative types see ruts differently. Author Jane Porter suggests that it’s not a rut you are experiencing at all, but impatience. You want to see results right away. You want to see progress quickly, just the way you sketched it out ahead of time. You want to see proof that your hard work is paying off. But, Porter says, efficiency is not the same as creativity.

Do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles with suggestions for dealing with ruts. But not many of them address why they happen in the first place. Wong says when she falls into ruts, they usually happen for one of three reasons:

* Information overload. The Internet provides a lot of information. Some good, others not so good. It’s easy to get lost in the world of information, and it’s even more fun to learn new ideas from people. It’s also easy to get distracted with non-essential ideas that don’t fit in with your own aspirations. When you feel lost, it’s easy to seek guidance from other people and forget that you even have a voice. You need to block out the distractions so you can hear your own voice and follow your own path.

* Burnout. Creative professionals often work on the same project for months or even years. But after looking at the same pages all the time, you can become bored. You begin to feel stagnant, and run out of ideas of how to fix your writing or artwork. Burnout is natural when you stare at a project for too long, says Wong. To counter burn out, it’s important to take breaks – lots of them. Self-care is as much a part of the creative process as the work you do. During those breaks, learn to do nothing, even if it’s just staring out the window. Breaks give you stamina and energy so you can keep going toward your goals.

* Uncertainty about your path. Sometimes you can be so engulfed in the process of creating that you lose sight of your overall vision. It can translate as boredom on the job. When you continue to do a job out of routine, and you’re unclear what the overall vision is for that job, it can throw you into a rut.

So now that you have a better understanding why ruts happen, what can you do about them? Ask any creative person and they will tell you how they deal with them. But their ways of dealing with ruts are as different as they are. Check out this Huffington Post article about how 29 artists break out of ruts. It’s important to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a break. Most creative people will tell you that frequent breaks are necessary for clearing your head. Go for a walk, take a weekend getaway, play with your pet, or take a nap. When you return to your desk, you may notice a solution you hadn’t seen before.

2. Work with your hands. Try gardening, playing in the sand, mold clay, juggle, or anything that requires you to use your hands rather than your head. Playing with something tangible like dirt, water or clay can be therapeutic and gives your brain a rest.

3. Take a bath or shower. Ever have an eureka moment while showering? There’s something about immersing yourself in water that releases creative energy. In astrology, water is often associated with creativity and artistry, so any activity involving water may help “flush out” new innovative ideas.

4. Try something different. Do something you’ve never done before, says Christine Mason Miller, author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World in a recent Psyche Central article. Sign up for a cooking class, visit a nearby town you’ve never been to before, or go horseback riding if you’ve never done it. The key is to open your mind up to doing something different. If you experience something out of the ordinary, that new experience can spawn new creative ideas.

5. Make small changes. Sometimes making small changes to your environment can help you look at the world differently. Miller says whenever she falls into a creative rut, she will repaint a room, rearrange the furniture, or buy new pillows. Bringing something new into your environment can spark creative ideas.

6. Allow yourself to be bored. Author Jane Porter says our brains are too occupied with information, data, news and other stuff. Our brains are too busy, and all that busyness can kill creativity. It’s okay to be bored every so often. Think of it as part of the creative process.

7. Surround yourself with beautiful things. Visit a museum, listen to classical music or read poetry. Enjoy the sources of beauty and creativity that surround you. Seeing it in nature or seeing it in the works of other creative types can inspire you.

8. Embrace your creative rut. Realize that feeling stuck is part of the creative process. Once you understand this, you can embrace it for what it truly is – a reason to keep creating.

Creative ruts are inevitable. They’re a natural part of the creative process. They’re red flags alerting you that something is out of sync. When you fall into one, don’t fret. Recognize it for what it is – a chance to recharge your creative spirit so you can produce your best work.

Six Reasons to Dress for Success When Working from Home

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Photo by Kai Pilger on Pexels.com

A growing number of people are working remotely these days, whether it’s from a co-working space or a home office. How dressed up should you be when you work from home? How much does your wardrobe affect your attitude or productivity?

Certainly one of the benefits of working remotely is being able to dress more casually than if you worked in a formal office environment. But just because you can “dress down” doesn’t mean you should.

Home Business magazine cites several research studies that show the psychological impact of clothing. Their conclusions? What you wear definitely can affect your mood, your ability to think creatively and solve problems, and how you present yourself to other people. While it’s tempting to stay in your pajamas and sweat pants all day, research shows that dressing more professionally when working from home has numerous advantages.

1. Professional business dress puts you in a work mindset. Numerous studies show that business casual attire increases creative and strategic thinking as well as increase alertness and attention. People who dress more professionally when working at home report feeling more authoritative, competent and trustworthy. When you feel more confident and authoritative, that attitude comes across in your performance too. Still not convinced? Check out this remote worker’s experiment to dress in business attire for one week.

2. People respond to you more positively. When you meet with clients, colleagues and bosses for meetings dressed in business attire, they are more likely to treat you with respect. You are perceived as someone who takes their job seriously despite working remotely. You are more trustworthy. If given the option between working with someone who dresses professionally and someone who dresses “down,”, most people are likely to choose the well-dressed colleague.

3. Clients take you more seriously when you dress professionally. Despite the fact that you work from home, there may be times when you need to meet with colleagues or clients in person. Those in person face-to-face meetings tend to have better outcomes when you dress for success. It sends a message to clients that you not only take your job seriously, you take their business seriously.

4. Professional attire helps you prepare for interviews. When you prepare for a telephone or video interview, dressing in professional attire shows you are taking the interview seriously. Professional attire gives you confidence, and that confident attitude is likely to come through the telephone or laptop screen. Be sure to dress all the way down to your shoes too. You never know when you may need to stand up or move around during a video conference call. You don’t want bosses or clients to see you in pajamas.

5. Business attire shows that you don’t have to give up comfort. It’s still possible to be relaxed and professional at the same time. Just because you can dress down for work doesn’t mean you should. You get to define what comfort means to you. If that means staying in your slippers or wearing flip flops as you work, so be it. If you insist on wearing your favorite T-shirt, make sure it’s clean and add a nice blazer over it to dress it up. If in doubt about what to wear when working from home, you can never go wrong with adopting the same dress code as your company or client has. Follow their leads.

6. Business attire can break up your day. By putting on dress clothes before you start your day and then changing out of them at say, five o’clock signals that your work day has ended. A shift in your schedule also shifts your mindset to one of work to one of relaxation. As the remote worker who experimented with business attire for one week discovered, without the changes of clothes, it may feel like the lines between work and play blur to the point that you feel you are always in work mode.

Here’s a great tip from Flexjobs. After you’ve started working from home, hang onto your business casual clothes and find other uses for them. Don’t donate them just yet. Add the business jacket to your weekend attire for date night, for example. Or combine items in different ways that you had not thought of. Be creative. Design your own dress code that allows you to mix and match and create a style that is all your own.

Working from home has its advantages. Dressing casually is one of them. Just remember that when you are on the clock, you are in business mode. And your dress should reflect that.

Tips for Working Productively in Open Office Environment

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I recently began working in an office with an open space plan. My staffing representative warned me about the open space when she set up the interview, so I was prepared to see how the space differed from previous offices I worked in that weren’t as open. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of a news room, with a line of desks facing outward toward the windows and another line of desks facing inward toward the inside offices.

Noise can sometimes be a problem in the office. One co-worker who sits near the front reception area often slips into a small conference room nearby with his laptop to concentrate on his project.  Other times, he wears headphones to escape office chatter while he works at his desk.

Open space floor plans have been around for several decades, but it’s only in recent years that they garnered criticism from employees who claim that they don’t provide a lot of privacy and can be noisy. Do a Google search about open offices, and you’ll find loads of articles that downplay their strengths, such as these stories from The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

True, they have many good points, such as letting in more natural light, allowing employees window views that they would not have had otherwise, and producing a closer, cohesive working unit among workers. Open office spaces were designed to encourage better collaboration among employees, but studies show that isn’t always the case. The truth is, not everyone works productively in an open office environment. Some people work in positions that require more privacy for interviews, such as human resources (or as they call it these days, “talent management”), while others need quiet time to read or write reports or technical information.

The good news is that many employers are offering their workers alternative arrangements for dealing with noise issues. By adding sound proof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans, many employers have been successful at accommodating workers’ need to escape disruptions.

Open office spaces are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to work in them. Here are a few tips for working more productively in an open office environment without losing your sanity:

* Move to another location in the office. If things get too noisy, and you really must concentrate on a project, see if you can slip into a nearby empty office or conference room if it’s available. Another possible solution is to put out a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your desk.

* Keep headphones handy. You don’t have to be listening to music or a podcast. When you slip on headphones, you subtly and clearly communicate to others that you are not available. It’s comparable to putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

* Alter your work schedule. What are your most productive times to work? For some, getting into the office a little earlier, say 7:00 am, before everyone else, gives you at least two hours of quiet time to work on a project with no disruptions.

* Work from home. Sometimes working from home may be more productive than working in an office. If you really need quiet time and you know you can be productive there, and as long as your supervisor approves the time outside the office, then working from home might be an option worth looking into.

Open floor plans at the office are here to stay. But knowing how you work in any environment and knowing what options you have to deal with unwanted distractions can help you remain focused so you produce your best work.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

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With the holidays fast approaching, we can all expect to be running more errands and having more demands on our time. Time is a priceless commodity at this time of year. We want to get everything done, and still have time for socializing and enjoying the spirit of the holidays with our families and friends. How are we supposed to get it all done in time for Christmas?

At first glance, it would seem that multi-tasking is the ideal solution. Multi-tasking allows us to complete two or more things at the same time. Who hasn’t talked on the phone while shopping for gifts online? It’s easy to assume that multi-tasking allows us to get more done in less time, thus giving us more time to spend enjoying the holidays. But that may not be the case, say researchers.

According to Dale Carnegie Training, people tend to multi-task in one of four different levels.

  1. Simultaneous multitasking. You accomplish tasks by doing two different activities at the same time. For example, entering data into a computer program while talking to your banker on the phone.
  2. Task switching. In this situation, tasks are completed consecutively rather than simultaneously. You’ll finish one task then move on to the next. For example, you finish preparing a presentation then check emails for messages.
  3. Time fillers. We’re all guilty of indulging our guilty pleasures by reading horoscopes, house hunting, reading celebrity gossip or updating our social media profiles. These activities aren’t usually work related, but may make us look busy when we’re not. People often confuse these time filling activities with multi-tasking, but clearly they do nothing to make us productive.
  4. Having lots of things to do. These individual tasks and chores are usually unrelated to each other and represent the busyness of life. For example, getting the car serviced, going for an eye exam or baking cookies for the kids’ school bake sale. Having a lot of things to do is not the same as doing them all at once, which is multitasking.

No matter how much you have to do or where you fall on the tasking scale, multi-tasking is not the answer. Studies show that multi-tasking is counterproductive. Trying to do so many things at the same time, say researchers, actually makes us less efficient. Our brains are simply not equipped for completing multiple tasks that require brain power.

So while it might be easy to fold laundry while watching TV, activities like writing a speech or negotiating a contract require more focused attention because they require more brain power.

Or as the old saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So the next time you need to complete a project for your boss or are faced with a huge pile of paperwork, try focusing on one task at a time. Then turn off the TV, skip checking your Facebook feed and get to work. You may finish your work sooner than you think.

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

Is Lack of Sleep Hurting Your Creativity?

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing

How many hours of sleep do you typically get in one night? How much do you think you need to be at your best creatively?

Medical experts say most adults require at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night to function properly. Getting only five or six hours of quality sleep can affect us adversely.  You may be short-tempered and impatient which can put a strain on relationships, for example, and mentally you may not be as sharp, which can lead to potential mistakes. Physically, lack of sleep can affect your mood, cause weight gain, high blood pressure and other ailments.

We all lead busy lives, and as we take on more responsibilities, unfortunately, sleep becomes less of a priority.  How can you possibly think clearly, make critical decisions, remain calm under pressure and perform at your best without adequate sleep? The truth is, you don’t realize how valuable sleep is until you begin to lose it.

If your performance on the job can improve with better quality sleep, it makes sense that it can also sharpen your creativity.  If a lack of sleep is preventing you from producing your best creative work, here are a few tips to help you when sleep eludes you:

1. Keep a notebook by your bed. If your brain is racing with ideas or overthinking a problem, grab a notebook and pen and start writing them all down. Getting these ideas down on paper before sleep helps declutter your brain so you can sleep better.

2. Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed time. The lighting from your smart phone, TV and laptop can interfere with the chemicals in the brain that regulate sleep. Avoid watching TV or listening to music before bed time. (I find that this actually works.) It’s important to quiet the mind before sleep.

3. Give yourself 20 minutes to fall asleep. If after 20 minutes you can’t fall asleep, get up and read until you feel sleepy. Then try again.

4. Read before hitting the sack. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re reading an engrossing page-turner, but reading for a few minutes each night before bedtime can also help you relax. Try reading something dull and boring, like a science textbook.

5. Take a warm shower or bath. The warm water eases muscle tension and makes you sleepy.

6. Drink a glass of warm milk before heading off to bed. If you drink cow’s milk, try warming a mug of almond or cashew milk. You can also try chamomile tea, but it might make you go to the bathroom more often during the night, which only disrupts your sleep more. Wine and other alcoholic beverages might help you get to sleep, but you may have difficulty staying asleep.

7. Avoid sleeping pills. Some can be addictive, while others are ineffective. Other products on the market, like melatonin and Nyquil Zzzzs have had mixed results.

Whether you are an artist, writer or business owner, if you want to maximize your creativity and be more productive in your work, sleep is the most valuable commodity you’ll ever need.

Finding Your Most Productive Hours of the Day – and Making the Most of Them

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Have you ever gone to the zoo and observed the lions in their den? Or watch your cat, if you have one? Note how much they sleep during the day. Those lazy interludes are usually followed by short bursts of activity where they play, hunt for food, groom themselves and chase after their prey.

It may seem like they are lazy, for all the sleeping they do, but they are behaving according to their natural instincts. They have their own internal alarm clocks that dictate when it’s time to eat, when it’s time to hunt for food and when to sleep. The time when they are at rest is when they conserve energy for when they need it most later.

As animals of the human kind, we too have internal alarm clocks that go off when it’s time to eat, sleep, play and work. If we paid more attention to our internal clocks, could we too maximize our time for better productivity?

Recent studies find that for many high-level executives and top producing professionals, early morning hours may be the most productive hour of the day. By getting up at 4 a.m. or even 5 a.m., the theory goes, you can use the time to catch up on emails, read, exercise, study for a class, or write posts for your blog. At that hour of the day, it’s quiet and there are less distractions to interrupt the flow of work and creative thinking.

But just because you rise at 4 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s the most productive time of day for you. But for many of us, 4 am is just too early to start doing anything other than sleep, unless you are a cat scrounging around for its next meal. But I believe we all have a few hours each day in which we are at our most productive. Our energy levels reach peak levels and we feel recharged and ready to tackle our work for the day. But knowing which hours are the most productive for us may be tricky, and those hours are not the same for everyone.

A recent article in Fast Company outlines a few ways we can determine our peak performance hours.

1) Ask colleagues, friends and workmates to observe your work habits for a few days or a week. What do they notice? Some workers dive in to projects first thing in the morning, while others get cranky if they get a project handed to them at 4 p.m.

2) Monitor your own performance peaks. This may be difficult for some to do because it requires you to be mindful of your habits. But if you pay attention to your energy levels and note when they are at their peak and when they are at their lowest, you can quickly determine which hours may be most productive for you.

3) Track your time (and your feelings). Using a sheet of paper, jot down how you spent your day, from checking your social media to taking bathroom breaks. Try this for at least three days in a row to get a true picture of your work habits. Next to each activity, note how you felt as you were doing them. Did you feel yourself in a “zen” moment where you lost track of time, or were you ready to take a nap? Be honest with yourself. Especially pay attention to those zen periods, which proves that the work you were doing then and the time of day were aligned.

Once you figure out those productive hours, set aside those hours to focus on your toughest project, make your calls, and do you most creative problem-solving. By tapping into that productive time slot, you’ll likely get more work done with less hassle and better results.