How To Work Creatively Without Burning Out

The question of how creativity happens has been a longstanding concern for all of us at In-House. After all, it’s at the core of what we do: we make stuff. The term ‘creative’ has become a part of our individual identities.

But it’s also our job.

So entering a creative headspace is a daily part of our lives. Whenever we set a deadline, promise a piece, or work on a project, there’s an expectation. And at times we’re looking into the void because, well… there are no guarantees. You either come up with a brilliant, beautiful, witty, elegant solution, or you don’t.

In truth, there’s no real recipe for making good work.. Input goes in, and eventually (well, most of the time) there’s output. But what happens in between? What are the connections that get made from problem to solution? What should we do when we’re creatively blocked? We’ve compiled a list of what works.

1. Don’t torture yourself

Just stop right now. That’s simply not how good stuff comes out. If a negative thought appears… let. it. go.

Breathe. Think. Give yourself some time to process.

Whether your take a walk, pause for coffee, call your mom (or sister, brother, [insert person completely removed from project here]), or read up on creative advice, you may just need that mental break. If this seems difficult in practice, we suggest strengthening your attention to detail and ability to focus on a day-to-day basis, so when you are stuck (and you will be), you’re not frazzled after stepping away. You’ll have the ability to completely unplug from the project and focus on something else. With distance comes perspective.

Creativity Lives in Unexpected Places, an In-House International poster by Luis Carlos Redondo

2. Step back

More often than not, being creatively stuck comes with the feeling that there’s something more you’re not seeing. It feels like there’s a puzzle piece that’s just out of reach. Some people call it inspiration.

Often, when we’re stuck, we find that we’ve strayed away from some key takeaways about the project’s ethos or objectives. We’re frequently either lacking clarity or thinking about constraints and direction too literally so we’re cutting off our own access to outside models that could solve the problem. We’ve learned to step away for a few hours. If you don’t feel entirely confident in your own perspective, rest within something a little more tangible — facts and feedback. It’s useful to take inventory of resources: client call notes, analogous problems, previous work, asking a colleague to brainstorm with you or, you know… turning to the brain trust of the Internet. Before diving in, remember to approach each of them as if you were looking at the project for the first time.

3. Identify your hangups

When engaging in creative work, we tend to get inside our own heads (comparison, fear of competition, negative self-talk, the list goes on). Although these emotional states may seem like insignificant symptoms of stress and pressure, they have an effect on your work. Cultivate an environment that allows you to cast these thoughts aside when they’re impacting your ability to perform. From embracing new routines to simple self-care investments (hello, bathtub and a good book), you’d be surprised how far changing your vantage point may take you.

Ideas Need Space, an In-House International poster by Alexander Wright

4. Embrace mistakes.

In fact, plan for your mistakes. There will be mistakes. When crafting deadlines for your projects, you should factor in errors. How much you should plan to give yourself depends on how you work. A good rule of thumb to start is 30% more time, and adjust as needed. Once you have the hang of things, create a contingency budget for your time and you’ll avoid those awful all-night rush sessions.

5. Great work takes time and effort.

This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget when all the work that’s posted, published, or shown seems so ubiquitous and so effortless. This is particularly true if they’re peers or people you know.

Effortless genius is a myth.

Let’s say it again: the ubiquity of spontaneous amazingness that you may be perceiving… it’s wildly inaccurate. Whether it’s through years of practice and mastery or straight-up toiling, the sublime is mysterious and rare, but it never happens without effort. So don’t knock yourself for going through multiple iterations; don’t beat yourself up for arriving at a good idea late in the game. It’s OK to get knocked down, and it’s also OK to stare at your computer for two hours. This should not become a regular part of your practice, but when it does happen (and it will), it should not keep you from delivering a rad final product.

Great Is Never Instant, an In-House International poster by Igor Bastidas

So get to work, and start creating.

PS: We created a motivational poster series around some of these #creativeproblems. Check ’em out, thank us later.

How To Work Creatively Without Burning Out was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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