How Do You Find Freedom in a Creative Crunch?

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It’s crunch time. You’re out of coffee, out of ideas, and you’re quickly running out of time. What do you do? How do you get inspired? How do you get there faster? It’s a never-ending problem with solutions that cannot simply be applied to anyone and everyone. Nor can the same solution work every time, any ol’ time.

Within the walls of Americom Marketing, we’ve tried just about everything for over a decade to get inspired, stay creative, and think forward. We’ve explored helpful websites, some interesting pins on Pinterest, age old techniques, and we’ve even beat our heads against the wall (which has technically only worked once when we were researching something about helmets). Anyway, we’ve found some things that work and some things to avoid that we’re happy to share. Well, a few of them anyways. We hope these help you as they’ve helped us.

Turn it on its side. Turn it inside out.

Different perspectives can open your mind to all sorts of new ideas and can lift you over the speedbumps on the path to creativity. Take a logo design, for example, that has been going nowhere for hours. Staring at it won’t get the job done, so you’ve got to do something. Turn it over or stand up and look at it from a different angle. A new angle or viewpoint can help simplify things or spark something bigger and better. Turn a square over on its side for a diamond. Turn boring into dynamic.

Limit your palette.

It’s easy to get stuck from simply being overwhelmed. Too many options, too many things to do, too many choices to make in not enough time. Fonts, colors, shapes, software tools, gizmos, gadgets, apps, etc. – they’re all tools that are helpful to create, but they’re often confused for solutions. They’re not solutions! They’re simply tools to help you along the way. But maybe you don’t need 450 Pantone colors to choose from. Maybe opt for only black and white. Or maybe don’t need 9 different software programs or apps to do whatever it is you’re doing. Instead of Evernote, Word, Excel and Basecamp – maybe you just need a pen and Post-It Note. Strip away the fluff and you’re forced to focus on what’s important, the meat of the matter. Think of an artist eliminating colors from his palette. By forcing yourself to use the few elements you’ve got, you can find freedom in the limitations and create something original that has focus without bells and whistles. This is even the essence of some sports drills. Soccer drills, for example, may include “two-touch” or similar games where players are limited on the number of times they can touch or dribble the ball, forcing them to create space and action with passes to teammates. It opens up the field, keeps things moving and forces the players to think and focus differently.

Change locations.

As we say a lot, people are often products of their environment. If you don’t like your environment, change it. Find a coffee house, find a spot in the lobby, or simply get out from behind your desk. Step outside or sit in your car for a while. Or better yet, stand. By changing your surroundings or getting out of your element, your eyes take in different sights; your ears take in different sounds or volumes of sound. When you get outside of your comfort zone, it’s the human natural reaction to try to restructure or get comfortable again some other way. Light a fire under your Instinct and let your body and mind work it out for a little while. Adaptation can be a surprising thing.

Clean something.

Creativity is regularly abstract. Whether it’s planning a campaign, drawing an image or writing brilliantly, there are lots of options and if-then scenario, and many thoughts can just hang out there. More importantly, there are no right or wrong answers, therefore, there is no sure-fire “End” to it. Math problems have solutions. When a solution is complete, it’s finite and done. There is an end to it. Unless you have a 250 word limit or some limitation like that, there’s really no definite finish line with being creative You ultimately feel it or know it when you see it. It’s tough to describe. Cleaning, however, has an immediate reaction and a completion. The completion can give a satisfying, prideful emotion. You have control. You wipe away dust or dirt, you see the shiny reaction, and you know it’s done and progress has been made. Take a break and clean your desk, clean your table or your car, or something crazy like the kitchen. Experiencing that bit of control can help you get the reins on the creative project at hand.

Free write.

Write stream of consciousness or some small test project like writing a product description, a recipe, or directions on how to get to your house. Write an obituary even. No one has to see it, it’s just for you. Writing forces the mind to reach and organize words, format and to ultimately reach a goal. It moves a different muscle. And by write, we mean write by hand – not just typing. Writing physically involves dexterity, coordination, pressure, textures, reactionary noise and pressure release. Take a break from telling Siri what to do and do it yourself if you haven’t done so in a while. Think of grade school when you actually had to write notes or write essays. Statistics show that reading comprehension and memory is higher when you physically write it out. So use this to your advantage and you may trail off into some foreign thought that may be the oasis in your desert of sputtering creativity.

Pinterest.

Pinterest is like a beautiful vacuum. You can get sucked into all sorts of arenas without end and, before you know it, 7 hours have disappeared and you’re nowhere near where you started, really unsure of how you got there or why. Search for ideas on Pinterest, but also explore other areas distantly related to your topic. For instance, if you’re an architect or interior designer working on a project, try looking up fashion topics. Delve into the world of wool overcoats or leather messenger bags. You’ll surely run across some textures, angles, photography and materials that are related to whatever you’re working with. If you’re working on a project for industrial bolts and pipes, dive into some woodworking topics or robotics. Different media, but some concepts could be transferred to what you need.

Left-hand.

If you’re right-handed, try something left-handed. Or vice versa. Brush your teeth, write the alphabet, or shoot some hoops. It forces your mind to rearrange things for coordination. It may be just the break you need when your little hamster on the wheel (brain) flips back over to resume the project.

Song lyrics.

The sense of hearing/sound is powerful. If you’re working on something visual, introduce some audio – if not into the work, just try adding it into the process. Take a piece of music or some profound lyric to a song and try to illustrate it. Literally, metaphorically – doesn’t matter. Again, no one has to see it; it’s practice. Find something with twists and turns in poetry and phonetics. Look through some website for lyrics for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Springsteen, Jay-Z or Dolly Parton or Adele…doesn’t matter.

Nature.

It’s an old one, but going outside to walk around is a proven method. Our president, Charlie Cooper, makes the block just about every day. Full suit or not, he’ll take his phone and stroll a lap or two around Old Town to help clear his mind and get away from emails popping up, phone call interruptions and employees barging in to ask questions. Step outside for a stroll or examine the rows of cars in the parking lot. Or shout out loud and run back inside really fast before anyone sees. That works on a couple of levels.

photo credit: MorgueFile
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