We all get stuck. The idea well dries up, and we are left struggling to move forward. With creative projects especially, making progress is crucial to building up consistency that pushes you towards breakthroughs. Author and “creative arms dealer” Todd Henry explains the 3 ways we often get caught in a creative ruts:
Definition: You Don’t Really Know What You’re Doing
It’s hard to solve a problem you haven’t defined, yet we try to do it all the time. We jump into the work, but don’t make the effort to ensure that we understand the problem we’re really trying to solve.
Motivation: You Don’t Really Care, Do You
Well, maybe you do care, but only because your paycheck (or reputation) is on the line. However, this isn’t always sufficient to keep you bringing your best to the work. You have to have a well-established through-line that provides baked-in motivation to keep working when things get tough.
Systems: Old Dog, New Tricks
Finally, your progress may simply be limited by your existing system or workflow. Things like standing meetings and organizational hierarchies tend to stick around for years after they’ve served their original purpose, but so do personal productivity habits.
Getting unstuck takes uncomfortable questions and difficult conversations, usually with yourself. The solution, according to Henry, is all about perspective:
Stuckness” is, in many cases, a choice. You may not come up with the optimal solution, but if you stay diligent and commit to progress, you can always re-direct to a better place.
Read Henry’s full article to grab his insights on climbing out of creative ditches and emerging victorious, here.
When we see the impressive work of others, it’s tempting to change our game plan to follow theirs in our fear of being left behind. However, Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, has learned that due to unique passions, skills and experience, we each have our own path to follow. Henry advises embracing the motto of one of his runner friends:
…the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.
Don’t sacrifice your drive because you are comparing your work-in-progress with someone else’s finished product. As Henry states, “Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s.”
Over at LinkedIn, entrepreneur James Caan gives us five important traits to have if you want to stand out in your career, including:
There is an old saying that says if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, and this is especially true in career terms. Are you somebody who is happy with your current skill set, or do you actively look to improve? If it is the latter, then you are exactly the sort of person most bosses look for…
There is nothing better for a manager than to see his or her employees actively taking ownership of projects. Equally, nobody wants to be seen as someone who passes the buck. If something falls under your remit, ensure you are the one who sees it through…
By having this ability to reflect – and sometimes criticize yourself – you are making sure lessons are learnt every step of the way.
What each of the traits Caan shares have in common is primarily related to personal drive. Those who are successful in their careers have the momentum to take full accountability and control of their efforts. Though, if they don’t have the momentum they need, they create it through self-reflection and focus.
Research indicates that we defer working on things based on how distant we perceive their deadlines. When we decide that something falls into the “future” category, we simply file it in our “someday” folder and eventually those goals are neglected. Unfortunately, that which is important is often inversely proportional to what’s urgent. To move priorities out of our “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines:
Establish “now” deadlines. Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach – like saving enough money for retirement – you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”
What separates the likes of Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, or Pablo Picasso from the rest of us? Over at Entrepreneur, James Clear argues it comes down to pure grit:
How do creative geniuses come ups with great ideas? They work and edit and rewrite and retry and pull out their genius through sheer force of will and perseverance. They earn the chance to be lucky because they keep showing up…
No single act will uncover more creative powers than forcing yourself to create consistently….For you, it might mean singing a song over and over until it sounds right. Or programming a piece of software until all the bugs are out, taking portraits of your friends until the lighting is perfect, or caring for the customers you serve until you know them better than they know themselves.
It might seem like an unfortunate answer, nobody wants to hear that the best way to do anything is to “work for it,” but the advice also shines as a reminder that genius-level ideas are obtainable, they just take work. Of course, knowing when to quit and when to grit are important as well.
In a time when old institutions are restructuring or collapsing, artist and writer Molly Crabapple urges individuals not to change who they are to be “professionally viable.” There is no longer a system you can enter and be set until retirement. Instead, she suggests creating a career unique to you.
…focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your f***ed-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.
Don’t change who you are to fit the work out there — find that work that fits you.
A study from last year confirmed that many people find public speaking to be more anxiety-inducing than death. As such, when practicing for client pitches, boardrooms and the stage, we often nervously prioritize style over substance by focusing on how to say things (your tone, pace, gestures, etc.) rather than what to say.
John Coleman suggests that we reverse our approach by focusing on what to say, not how to say it:
Focus on memorizing key stories and statistics, rather than practicing our delivery. If you spend your time on how to say something perfectly, you’ll stumble through those phrasings, and you’ll forget all the details that can make them come alive. Or worse, you’ll slavishly read from a PowerPoint or document rather than hitting the high points fluidly with your audience. If you know your topic, the words will come.
Trust your knowledge of the subject matter. Pick your key points and let the words find themselves.