Everyone gets stuck at times. You know that feeling where you want to be creative, but it’s just not happening. Instead you procrastinate, you avoid the project, or you do other “important” things. This episode explains reasons why we get stuck and provides solutions to move into full creative breakthrough mode. Ready to get unstuck? Just click play!
What You’ll Learn
- How to figure out which stage of the creative process you are stuck in and then how to move forward
- General tips that will help you move forward, regardless of where you are stuck
- Techniques to help you move into breakthrough thinking and active creating
- Blog post: Three Tips to Help you Focus When Writing
- Climer Cards
- Zig Zag Cards
- Strict Workflow by Matchu
- Book: The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
The Weekly Challenge
Try out one of the tips or tools shared this week. How did it go? Share your experiences below in the comments section.
Feel like reading instead of listening? Download the free PDF Transcript or read it below. Enjoy!
Transcript for Episode #039: How to Get Unstuck and Start Being Creative
Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 39. Today, I am going to talk about how to get unstuck and start being creative. So let’s talk first about what is this thing being stuck. What does stuck mean? When I say being stuck or you want to get unstuck, I think of it as not being able to move forward. That you are procrastinating something that is important to you, something where you are trying to be creative. Essentially, you are avoiding the creative act. To me that is what being stuck is. And quite frankly, it is just we get inside our own head and we prevent ourselves from being creative. So I want to share with you basically a system that I have developed for myself that helps me get unstuck. Hopefully, it will work for you. Let me know. I would love to get the feedback from you to find out hey, did this work for you?
Recognize That You Are Stuck [01:32]
The first thing I find helpful is, and this is going to sound really obvious, but recognize that you are stuck. And really just pay attention to, “What is going on? Oh, okay. I am actually stuck. I am not doing what it is I really want to be doing. Along with that, is looking at what are you doing instead of being creative, instead of the creative act. So let’s say, for instance, that you want to have more art in your life. You want to create more art. So you decide that you would like to do some watercolor painting. You have some free time in the evenings, on the weekends, and so you figure yeah, I want to take this up. But then you realize a month has passed and you actually have not done anything. Maybe you bought some new watercolor paints and a paintbrush, but you have not actually made anything. Not even anything bad. You have not made anything. So that would be an example of being stuck. So recognizing that and realizing, “Oh, it has been a month. I have not done anything yet!” Recognizing that.
Pay Attention to What You Have Been Doing Instead [02:42]
Then what I like to do is really pay attention to okay, what have I been doing instead? Thinking about that example, like what did you do in the evenings? Did you watch TV, were you hanging out with friends, were you working on other projects? What were you doing instead? I find it really helpful especially when I realize oh, I was watching a Netflix series. Not helpful. That is what is getting in my way. Well, I do not know if I would say that is what is getting in my way, but that is what I am doing instead of being creative. When I realize that, what I am doing instead, it helps me pause. It helps me figure out if what I am doing instead is something that I want to be doing instead.
So sometimes what happens is, we have these ideas but what we are doing instead is actually something also creative. And so then it is just a matter of figuring out like okay, well, maybe I need to finish this other project before I can start on watercolor painting. But then sometimes what happens is, it is actually I need to stop watching Netflix because that is not going to have a positive impact on my life in the way that doing more watercolor painting would. So just figuring out what you do instead can be very helpful.
Identify Which Stage You Are Stuck In [04:03]
The other thing I have found is helpful is to identify where you are stuck. So one, is recognizing you are stuck. Two, is looking at what you do instead of being creative. And three, is identifying where are you stuck. So you might remember from Episode 3 that there are four stages to the Creative Problem Solving process. The first, is Clarify, and figuring out what problem are you trying to solve, what is it you are trying to do. Number two, is Ideate; coming up with ideas how you are going to solve this problem or how you are going to do this project. Number three, is Develop; okay, so you have some ideas, but you want to develop them a little bit further and get your action steps figured out. And finally, four is Implement; and that is when you are actually taking action, doing the work. So I find it helpful to figure out which stage I am stuck in. Because that can help me figure out the best way that I can get unstuck.
So let’s use an example that you are going to design a new website. But that is all you know. You know that for your organization, the current website looks pretty bad, and so you need to do something different. Well, the first thing, is you are going to start with clarifying. You need to ask questions for who is the audience, you want to identify other sites that you like, although being careful not to go down a rabbit hole and spending four hours researching other websites. That is not helpful. But you need to do some research and clarify what it is we are trying to do. So if you have not done that yet, that is probably where you are stuck. Is you are getting stuck in that clarifying stage. If you are stuck in that clarifying stage, obviously you need to clarify first before you can start coming up with ideas and moving forward with the project. So the first thing I would suggest is, go listen to Episode 4 of The Deliberate Creative Podcast. Because in that episode I explain the clarifying stage and I give some specific tools and techniques you can use to help clarify what it is you are trying to do.
The second stage is Ideate. And this is where you know the basic details, you know the goals, but you are not really sure how to design the site. So you are just staring at your screen, not making any progress. The first thing I would say is get away from the computer. I have found this is the case, no matter if it is a website I am trying to design, if it is a new project I am working on, if it is let’s say a conference that you are trying to create or you are trying to do differently than you have done in the past. Get away from the computer. Get a pencil, a pen, or makers, get some scrap paper, get some Post-It Notes and sit down and start sketching out some ideas.
So going back to the website example, I would say sketch out ten different looks for the website. Just play with them. Just see, I mean you are going to throw all this paper away eventually, but you just want to sketch out some different ideas and that is one way to move through ideation. There are some more ideas for the ideate stage on Episode 5 of this podcast. So you can go listen to those if you would like. And Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6, and Episode 7 there is a free Workbook that goes along with that episode that you can download. Just go to www.climerconsulting.com/005 for Episode 5, 004 for Episode 4, and so on.
So you might be stuck in the ideation stage. Let us say you have a general idea, you know what needs to happen, but you are procrastinating and you are still avoiding working on the project. Probably, that means you are stuck in the Develop stage. This is where I am stuck right now in working on my dissertation. I have finished all the data collection and data analysis. I have written half of chapter 4, which is the results section, I have about 18 pages, but it is not done. And I have been feeling stuck. And I have noticed in the last few days I have had time to work on it but have I? No, I was watching Netflix in the evening. Not helpful.
But what I realize is that I am stuck because I do not know what to do next. And I need to further develop that chapter and I need to finish the outline for the last half of the chapter. I know the next time I sit down what I want to do is I want to pull out some Post-It Notes, and I want to write all the pieces I want in the chapter, and put one on each Post-It Note, and arrange those in a way that makes sense. I like Post-It Notes because they are just easy to move around, I can write with marker. I cannot put a lot of detail, which is a good thing because they are only three inches by three inches usually, at least that is the ones I use.
So I know that that is where I am stuck with the Develop. And actually that is the spot where I get stuck a lot. I know this in part because of my FourSight profile. FourSight is the tool that helps you identify which of the four stages of the Creative Problem Solving process you have a preference for. And in Episode 8 I interviewed Blair Miller who is one of the developers of FourSight, and you can learn more about that in Episode 8. But what I know about myself is that my preference if for Ideate and Implement. I am really good at coming up with ideas, and I am good at implementing. But I get stuck because develop is not my strength so much.
So sometimes I want to move forward, but I just cannot because I have not developed the idea. So while that is not my strength, I can still develop. There are many tools out there and I have figured out some ways to do it, but I know that is where I get stuck. So once I identify that is where I am stuck in this chapter and writing this, it helps me recognize, oh, okay I know what I need to do next. Because usually when we are stuck, all we have to do is figure out what do I need to do next? Just the one step forward. We do not need to know what the next ten steps are necessarily, because we are not there yet. What is the one next step?
So let’s go back to the website example. If you have the ideas but you are stuck in the develop stage, perhaps you are hiring somebody to actually create the website for you, maybe the next step is to hire a designer. But you are not really sure how to hire a designer, you have never done that before. So writing out what you think those steps are. Maybe talking to some people that have done it before, getting some input and advice from them might be helpful. Again, you can go to Episode 6 of this podcast and there is a whole episode on develop and there are some specific tools and techniques in there that you can access.
Finally, you have got your outline, you know what you are doing next, you have your action plan, and then you do not do anything with it. That is being stuck in the implementation stage. You procrastinate on the implementation. So one of the things that I have found most helpful in that stage, is just to physically go to the space that you will be doing the work. So if it is an art studio, you are going to your art studio, if it is your desk, you are going to your desk, if it is, say you are just working on that watercolor painting in your hours, you set your space out in your house. And you go and you sit there and do not leave that space for however long is appropriate, at least say half an hour. And even if you do not do anything or you do not know what you are going to do, you just go there and you be there. And if it is watercolor painting, you are picking up that paintbrush and you have your papers and your water is ready and everything and maybe you just like put some color on the paper. If it is that website, maybe you just sit there and you have the apps open, whatever it is you need, you have your tools ready, and you do something. So that is what I have found is really helpful if I am stuck in the Implementation stage.
Usually what I have found happens is that after about ten minutes or so, I am making some progress. And usually it is a little messy at first and it is not that smooth-looking, it does not feel that smooth, but then after half an hour or so, I get into the flow, and I am really into it. And I can sometimes be there for a couple of hours because I am just so engaged and I am being creative. So those are some thoughts about, identifying where you are stuck can help you figure out how to get unstuck. So which stage of the creative process are you stuck in.
General Tips That Will Help You Move Forward
Set a Time Limit [13:13]
The next things I want to share are just some general tips that will help you regardless of which stage that you are in. One tip that I have found very helpful is to just set a time limit. Maybe you decide okay, I am going to work on this for five minutes. I am going to work on this for ten minutes, maybe 30 minutes. But something where I am going to commit to working on this project only for a set amount of time, and I know that during that time that is all I am going to do. And after that time I can go do anything else I want, but for 30 minutes I am going to write on my dissertation, I am going to work on the website, I am going to work on this conference I am trying to plan, I am going to, for 30 minutes, make a watercolor painting. Whatever it is, just give yourself a set amount of time and just do it.
And I would use a timer. My partner uses the stove timer all the time. I just walk in the kitchen, there is no cooking going on and the timer is going for 20 minutes. I am like, “What is this timer on for?” She is doing some project and just wants to spend 20 minutes on it. That works. And when 20 minutes is over, she is out doing something else, even if she is not quite done. And usually, I think that is most helpful for projects where there is some reason we are not doing it on our own. We are stuck.
Pomodoro Technique [14:34]
The other thing I have found helpful, and this is if you are on a computer, if you are like me, you can easily get distracted from meaningless things like social media. Not that it is always meaningless, but maybe I go to Facebook to do like a one-minute task, and next thing I know 20 minutes has passed. There is a tool called Strict Workflow and it is based on the Pomodoro Technique, which is where you work for 25 minutes and then you have a 5 minute break, you work for another 25 minutes, 5 minute break and so on. It is a free plug-in that you can download for Chrome. I believe it is also available for Safari and Firefox. And if you are not using one of those three browsers, like if you are using Internet Explorer, you might want to change because there are so many cool things available for the more popular up-to-date browsers. Anyway, it is called Strict Workflow, and I will put a link to this in the shownotes, which you can find at www.climerconsulting.com/039.
Anyway, Strict Workflow it is a great little app. There is a little tomato timer and you just click on the tomato, and for 25 minutes it blocks all those websites that you do not want to go to. It will block Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. I have it set up where it even blocks my email. And the only way to get to those sites is actually by shutting down your computer and restarting your computer unless, of course, the time has lapsed. So you can put any sites in there that you want it to block and you can take those you do not want it to block. But I have found that is really helpful. So that is called Strict Workflow.
Using Music to Help You Concentrate [16:23]
Another thing I have found helpful is an app called Focus@Will. This is a really cool music app that has music specifically designed to help you concentrate. And there are all these different genres of music, and you can set the tempo, if you want it to be fast or slow tempo, what kind of music you want. Most music is designed to engage you. So for instance, song lyrics are, you start singing along with the lyrics and you are kind of getting into it, and you are focused on the rhythm. And that actually can be rather distracting. It can take your brain away from the work that you are doing, but the music on Focus@Will helps you focus. And there are actually even some scientific algorithms that they have used matching your brainwaves. I do not know about all that, but all I know is that I have found it really helpful to help me focus and pay attention. So that link is also in the shownotes.
Set Mini Goals [17:28]
Another general tip that I have found helpful is to set some mini goals. So one of the things that I have done for my dissertation is that every week on Sundays and Wednesdays, I have a phone call with a friend who is also working on her dissertation, and we share with each like where we are at, what we are doing, and at the end of every phone call we share our goals for the next three to four days. So on Sunday I will tell her here is what I want to have done by Wednesday night. And then Wednesday I tell her here is what I want to have done by Sunday. And then when we talk next, we each share what we did or did not do, and it just helps the two of us stay accountable, stay focused. So I think having those little short mini goals can be really helpful. What am I going to do in the next three days? So setting mini goals.
Recognizing the Fear [18:21]
The next tip is recognizing the fear. This came up in Episode 18. It was the interview with Elaine Gale, and we were talking about this book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which I will put a link to that in the shownotes for you. I just love his book. It is so great. But one of the things he talks about is this idea that if we are really resisting something, if we are really procrastinating or avoiding something, it might be because we really love it. And that fear is love. That we are afraid of something but we are afraid of it because we really love it, and we care about it, and we want it to be good.
I have found that for sure. I mean, I have even found that with this podcast where I sometime procrastinate doing this. Some of you may have noticed that usually I try to get the podcast out Thursday mornings, but sometimes it does not happen until Thursday afternoon, maybe Friday once in a while. There have been a couple of times where I just completely could not do it that week. But actually when I look back, I do not know that it really was that I did not have the time, but that I just was not sure like what could I talk about that would be really good.
I want it to be good. I want this to be a great podcast, I want it to be awesome for people who are listening, I want it to make a difference, and sometimes I am afraid that maybe I am not doing that. Because I love it so much, fear creeps in. And I think that happens to us a lot of times when we are trying to be creative. Is that we are afraid because we care so much. And that fear is actually love. We love the project so much that we are afraid of not doing it well. So then we avoid doing it because we are afraid that it is not going to be good. So for me, I have found recognizing that is really helpful. And it has helped me move forward with this podcast, it has helped me move forward in writing. Anyway, I highly recommend the book.
Additional Resources [20:31]
The next tip is use some resources like Climer Cards or Keith Sawyer’s Zig Zag Cards. The Zig Zag Cards are great because there are specific tips, techniques, and tasks you can do related to the various stages of creative problem solving. So if you are stuck in the Clarify stage, which he calls the Ask stage, you can pull out a card that is on Ask stage and do one of those tasks. You can also use Climer Cards, which are another tool. Especially for idea generation or clarification, I think they are really good for those first two. Again, all these are in the shownotes.
Finally, it is talking to people that might help motivate you. And I guess that goes along with, like I said, I have these two phone calls a week with my friend to talk about our goals, and I find it really motivating. I love talking to her. And who are those people that are going to motivate you? And I am not talking about the people who are going to tell you exactly what to do, unless that is motivating to you. But sometimes I feel like if I tell someone a problem, they just try to solve it for me, and that is not really what I mean. But instead, who is going to motivate you? It could be that maybe it is listening to this podcast, it could be watching a TED Talk, it could be talking to a good friend or your parent or your child. Who is it that is going to help motivate you and help you stay on track? So having those conversations can be helpful. And on the flipside, avoiding the conversations or avoiding the people that will distract you and will not help motivate you.
So those are some general tips. We have talked about a lot on this episode. I talked about four stages that I have found helpful in getting unstuck. 1) recognizing that you are stuck, 2) looking at what you do instead of being creative, 3) identifying where you are stuck, which stage in the creative process, and then 4) we talked about some general tips that can help you at whatever point you are in.
The Weekly Challenge [22:48]
Your weekly challenge is to try one of these things, whether it is from the general tip, whether it is from the Clarify, Ideate, Develop or Implement stage, try one thing this week and see if it helps you get unstuck. And if you are so inclined to share, you can go to the shownotes and share a comment on there, or post on Facebook or Twitter. You can tag me @amyclimer on Twitter. I would love to hear what works for you. And if you have some other tips you want to share, feel free to put those in the shownotes, in the comments, or send me an email and I will add them for you if you would rather share them on social media. But it would just be great to hear like did these ideas help you or not.
Thank you much for listening today. I hope that this helps you get unstuck and start being more creative in your life because I believe that it is so fulfilling and so important for all of us to do. Have a wonderful week and I will see you next time. Bye.
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