Stuck In A Creative Rut? Ask Yourself These Five Questions!
Creative Rut, Writer’s Block, Burnout… it happens far more often than any of us would like to admit. Whether it comes on slowly but surely or it hits us all at once, we all know what it’s like to feel run down, overwhelmed, uninspired, & to finally have the dreaded realization:
I’m out of ideas - I’m officially stuck in a creative slump. How do I escape?
What is a creative rut?
A creative rut can best be described as a persistent feeling of being mentally drained, unmotivated, & unsatisfied with the work that you’re producing.
Maybe we feel like what we’re putting out into the world is too boring, not original enough, not up to our usual standards, or maybe we’re just finding ourselves unable to create anything at all. These phases can last for a few days, for several months, or even as long as a few years. It’s uncomfortable, frustrating, & oftentimes downright infuriating.
How do we haul ourselves out of a creative black hole & start finding ways to create things that we feel excited about again? As someone who’s found themselves in a creative rut plenty of times, i’m sharing a few of the questions I always ask myself when i’m starting to experience those tell-tale signs of creative burnout & want to find out what’s causing it.
1. Am I Scheduling Time For Myself To Rest?
As simple a solution as it may seem, scheduling down-time is essential when it comes to avoiding creative burnout. For those of us who freelance or run our own businesses, it can be so easy to unconsciously be in “work mode” for hours & even days in a row without giving ourselves time to rest and recharge.
I’m not just talking about getting adequate sleep, either - it’s equally as important to find a self-care activity that feels restful to you, consciously make time for it, & give yourself permission to take that time off from work-related tasks without feeling guilty. For some people, taking a few hours every week to go out & socialize with friends and family is enough to rest & recharge. For others (& for me!), it looks like taking those hours to do something purely for yourself - to sit outside in the sun with a glass of wine, start that book you’ve been meaning to read, lie in bed & watch that silly tv show, etc. If you’re struggling with taking time for yourself, I understand - but know that time spent giving yourself a break is never a waste!
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is this: You will never finish your to-do list. Really, though, it’s true. You’ll never finish it. None of us will be lying in our deathbeds some day saying to ourselves: “Wow, I made it! I’m so happy I finally finished that to-do list.” Don’t set an unrealistic expectation for yourself that success looks like “getting it all done, & getting it all perfect.” There’s nothing wrong with being dedicated to your work, but it’s completely unrealistic to pretend that the human body is a robot that doesn’t need mental rest, sleep, proper exercise & nutrition, & social time. Take breaks, & enjoy them - Life is not a to-do list!
2. Am I over-delivering &/or over-committing?
So many of us are constantly pushing ourselves to do more - make more money, get more clients, sell more product, etc. It’s good to grow - & it’s necessary to push ourselves in order to achieve new goals! But sometimes in our enthusiasm to grow, we over-complicate processes for ourselves & spend our energy in places that we shouldn’t.
Deliver quality service & product to your clients & customers, but also make sure you’re not wasting your time over-delivering your time & talents without receiving the proper compensation in return. If you’re finding yourself burning the candle at both ends & putting in extra hours without charging or pricing yourself adequately, the time has come to sit down and re-evaluate your priorities. Figure out what tasks you can delegate to others, & try to simplify & automate the processes that you find yourself doing over & over. Learn to say “no, thanks” more often. The less things that ask for your time & energy, the better. If you’re trying to be all things to all people & are asking yourself to be too many places at once, your energy levels will decrease and you’ll find it much harder to relax, focus, & let that authentic creative energy flow.
3. Am I multitasking... to a fault?
Multitasking is awesome, & i’m not one to knock it - I love finding ways to maximize my time! However, excessive multitasking can actually work against us & contribute to more distractions throughout the work day, causing us to lose our ability to sit down & really get focused on the task at hand. Have you ever had the realization that you’ve spent your entire day working, but at the end of the day, you’re not exactly sure what it is you’ve actually gotten done? If you’re jumping around between multiple tasks in an effort to get things done more quickly, it’s hard to do a good job being fully present & focused on doing any of those jobs thoroughly & well.
Multitask away, but be sure you’re not spinning your wheels. Schedule yourself uninterrupted blocks of time during your work day to complete certain tasks one at a time & you’ll notice a huge difference in productivity. You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve when distractions are at a minimum. If you’re more intentional with your tasks, you’ll be less frustrated with your lack of progress & will, in turn, have more time and motivation to create.
4. Am I truly burned out, or am I just procrastinating?
One of my favorite quotes is the following by the painter Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Truer words were never spoken. Every now & then, we’ll have these magical moments where creative inspiration strikes in a random flash...but more often than not, it takes some work to get there. So many of us fall into the trap of procrastination, & we have to learn how to grow our self-discipline. It takes work & a lot of self-awareness to be able to know the difference between your brain being lazy & your brain being actually, truly exhausted.
There’s a time to rest, & there’s a time to force yourself to sit down, do the work, & really power through the task at hand. If I'm really struggling with a task, I try to spend an equal amount of time pushing myself to power through the challenge as I do resting from trying to solve it. If we don’t push ourselves a little, we’ll never learn or grow stronger. It’s so important to listen to your body & to be in touch with yourself enough to know when you’re falling into the trap of procrastination & when you’re truly tired & need to rest.
5. What’s happening in my life that could be holding me back from reaching my true creative potential?
When you’re feeling stuck, it’s easy to blame outside factors for your lack of creative inspiration. All of us face so many everyday stresses caused by family, our day jobs, our financial situations, etc. All of these things take up our energy, & if we’re experiencing a lot of intense stress at once, creativity is not our brain’s first priority because we’re stuck in survive mode rather than thrive mode.
Take a moment to sit down & be super honest with yourself - what’s causing you stress & fear, & how can you best learn from & deal with these situations? This is much easier said than done, too - It’s not pleasant to have those hard conversations with toxic people or to make the big decisions that are necessary in order to change your lifestyle & reduce the stress & fear you’re experiencing. We’ll always have those little everyday pressures, but if you’ve got chronic stress that’s causing you to suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally, your creativity will almost always take a huge dive.
Long term stress results in residual fear, too. If you experienced a failure or rejection in your personal or business life, it’s common to be worried about taking any sort of creative risks again in the future & to be hesitant to put yourself out there again. All of us experience the fear of failure, or maybe even fear of success - success is new & scary, and sometimes we just want to stay in our comfort zones. Give yourself permission to remove yourself from stagnant, toxic situations so that you can find the courage to try something new!
At the end of the day, patience is the most important thing to keep at the forefront of your mind during a creative rut. Another of my favorite quotes attributed to the artist Banksy is “If you get tired, learn to rest - not quit.” Be patient with yourself and with your time - give your body & brain the time it needs to recharge.