We’ve all experienced brain-lock. Perhaps it comes when you’ve got to execute a creative endeavor at the end of a long day, or maybe it sets in when you’ve been multitasking for so many hours, you don’t know which way is up. Whether it’s as small as drafting a new bio or as big as coming up with a new product feature, you’ve got to get something creative done and you’re sitting in front of your computer paralyzed. Here are a few super-simple ways to get your brain in gear:
1. Create momentum (literally).
It seems obvious, but when you’re on deadline and stressed out, stepping away from your computer can be the last thing you’re willing to do – even if sitting still isn’t really getting you anywhere. As one of the early CEOs of 3M put it: “Our company has, indeed, stumbled onto some of its new products. [Post-Its, for example.] But never forget that you can stumble only if you're moving." If you need to jumpstart your brain, getting physical is the easiest way to change your energy level. Just a quick walk around the block is often enough to totally change your perspective.
2. Talk it out.
As psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihály outlines in his bestselling book Finding Flow, research has shown that people are more likely to experience flow – the feeling of being completely at one with your activity and feeling an energized focus – when they are socializing, than when they are alone. Rather than spending too much time trying to plan out the perfect proposal, Powerpoint presentation, or particularly tricky email, it’s often easier and more efficient to just feel out the best approach by simply talking it out with someone. Alternatively, you could just talk it out with yourself, a tactic promoted by Jason from 37signals.
When we’re playing, we can easily and freely explore all of the possibilities. But when we’re in work mode we tend to feel more rigid – our focus is goal-oriented and we want to get it right the first time. But sometimes that just leaves you… stuck. Whether it’s engaging in un-self-conscious free association or viewing required research as more of a scavenger hunt than a chore, turning an insoluble problem into a game can help loosen things up and open up the way forward. Google Creative Lab director Ji Lee tries to incorporate an element of play into all of his personal projects.
*** This article is based on the research and writing of J.K. Glei. She regularly collaborates with Scott Belsky and the Behance Team, who run the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think thank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.