I’m notorious for gripping the bat too tight when it comes to work things. I’ll sit here and turn a problem over and over in my head. I won’t allow myself to turn away until I crack the issue. I’ll get so deep into something that I can no longer see the forest for the trees or really see anything else. The creativity just won’t flow. Everything outside of that problem is a distraction, nothing is turning out right and the frustration levels are pretty damn high.
Over the years I’ve developed a few tactics for getting out of my own head on a specific issue and trying to get some perspective on things. That kind of perspective is essential and has often led to one of a few outcomes: 1) I have a breakthrough and finally arrive upon an approach that will deal with what needs dealing with or 2) I finally let go of my pride and ask for help, calling in reinforcements to provide the kind of outside thinking that’s sometimes necessary. Here are some of the ways I try to break out of a funk that’s too often of my own making.
Writing Something Else
Here’s a little truism about writers: We don’t always have fresh and interesting perspectives on every topic under the sun on-demand. Often I’m asked to weigh in on a topic that I want to opine on but am unsure what I want to say. Or I’m working on a client project and the angle just isn’t coming to me, no matter how many ways I turn things over in my mind. The best thing I’ve done in situations like this is to write about something else. Anything else. Movies, music, a personal journal…whatever. Just get words flowing in some manner on another topic, find the groove and let it play itself out. It’s often in the middle of this kind of distraction that I have an “Oh…that’s the key” moment, but I’ll write that down somewhere on the side and then come back to it when I’ve finished whatever it is I’ve started.
Take a Walk
I work at a standing desk arrangement so it’s not as if I’m sitting hunched over the computer all day to begin with. Still, sometimes the best remedy for loosening my grip is to stretch my legs a bit and go get some fresh air. I’ll have my phone with me, of course, but usually I don’t bring any headphones so I’m not listening to music or podcasts or anything while I’m doing so. Instead I’m more in the moment outdoors, taking in the sounds of the cars going by, the train passing a block over, someone cutting their grass, the squirrel running in the tree above me and more. This sort of giving myself over to the real world is essential sometimes and I’ll come back at least feeling like I’ve given myself a break from staring at the monitor and have used not only some different physical muscles but opened up some fresh neural pathways as well.
Do Some Physical Labor
Similarly, doing something that’s not writing has proven to be a valuable distraction. Maybe I’ll go pull some weeds or clean something dirty or move things around in the garage. This is more about redirecting my mind not on something that’s just a distraction but actually solving a new problem. Again, that sort of change will help loosen things up a bit and take my mind off the work-related issue, pushing it to my subconscious, which is often better at arriving at solutions than the conscious mind.
Read a Book
Sometimes the best solution is not an active alternative but a passive one. Reading a book means you’re sitting back and letting someone else take you on a journey, not actively foraging ahead on your own. That’s a much different experience than most of what I’ve already discussed. When I read I let myself be transported to that other world (especially with fiction) and being more passive about my distraction. Note that I don’t lump “watching a movie” in with this since for me, especially if I’m on my own, it’s hard not to pick up my phone or laptop when I’m watching a movie at home. I’ll eventually be fidgeting and looking to check Twitter or keep up on RSS or something. If I’m reading, I’m just reading. I can’t be poking around on Facebook *and* reading. It’s a much fuller distraction.
Turn On Different Music
When I’m working I’m usually listening to either music or podcasts. But sometimes what I’ve selected just isn’t working, it’s not conducive to giving myself over to the flow and it’s helping get any ideas started. So I’ll switch over from podcasts to music or vice versa. Or I’ll realize this album I’m listening to isn’t working and try something else. Just like Baby in Baby Driver had that one killer track that was his go-to when he needed to up the adrenaline and make the magic happen I have a few reliable options that will get me pumped up, which usually accompanies a spike in creativity. They act like the needle Vincent Vega jabs in Mia Wallace’s chest in Pulp Fiction and jumpstarts things.
Be Annoying On The Internet
This is going to sound a bit juvenile, but being kind of annoying has also helped me break out of a funk more than a few times. Sometimes I’ll go on Twitter and let loose with a tirade on one topic or another or just crack a few jokes I’ve been wordsmithing for a while. Or lately I might go on Slack and join a few conversations. Whatever the outlet, this has occasionally freed up some space in my mind and all of a sudden I come back to the project I’m working on and can come up with the fun, creative idea that I’ve been grasping for.
How about you? Are there tactics you’ve developed to make sure you can get things going when you feel like the creativity or insights just aren’t there? Share in the comments below.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.