Creativity can be fickle. One day, your brain is full of bright ideas you’re keen to jot down, develop, and share with others. The next day, you have nothing. Zilch. Not even a flicker of an idea. You suddenly feel like a world-class restaurant that’s run out of ingredients.
A key element of creativity is finding the odd jolt of inspiration. But discovering that spark can be tricky if you work from home. You don’t have a normal commute, which for many is a chance to let your mind wander and experience random but inspirational moments. Similarly, you’re not working in a busy office that’s full of sights, sounds, and smells to draw from.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be just as creative while working remotely – you just need to make a conscious effort to surround yourself with sources of inspiration. These can be physical objects, online communities, or activities that encourage you to hit pause on work, turn off your devices, and clear your head.
Recreate the commute. You might not have an office to go to, but it’s still worth putting your shoes on and doing a bit of exercise each day. It could be a quick walk around the block or a vigorous bike ride into town. And it doesn’t matter if you complete your ‘commute’ in the morning, on your lunch break, or after you’ve finished work. If you’re self employed, or able to set your own schedule, you might also prefer to ‘commute’ at a time when everyone else is typically in the office. Experiment and find a routine that works best for you.
A ‘commute’ could expose you to people, weather, buildings, and places of natural beauty that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.
Stretching your legs is great for your health and will give your mind a chance to wander. Depending on the route, it could also expose you to people, weather, buildings, and places of natural beauty that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. That in turn could lead to some new ideas that you can jot down and work on once you’re back at home.
Visit a cafe. Sitting in a coffee shop, diner, or restaurant can be an effective substitute for a traditional office. You’ll see lots of different people and possibly overhear an interesting conversation (just remember to respect people’s privacy!). Many creatives find they’re more productive when surrounded by ambient noise – in this case, customer chatter mixed with clinking glasses, mugs, or cutlery. You can recreate this setting with a coffee shop-inspired YouTube video or Spotify playlist, though it’s hard to top the real thing.
Eating out every day can be expensive, so if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, try taking a packed lunch to your nearest park, beach, or lake – anywhere that other people are likely to meet up with friends or pass through.
Meet with other people. Arrange an in-person catch-up with a friend, colleague, or family member – anyone that you enjoy bouncing ideas off. Alternatively, you can look for a group or club dedicated to your profession. Many cities have meetups for budding photographers, filmmakers, and graphic designers, for example. Listening to what other people are working on might help you come up with a new idea. In addition, these ‘outsiders’ could have useful feedback and suggestions for the projects you’re currently stuck on or stewing over.
Consider a co-working space. If you’re used to working in a traditional office, you might want to start using one again. A busy co-working space can provide the same hustle-and-bustle atmosphere as a popular cafe or coffee shop. Many people also find the process of leaving their home and entering another building helps to switch their brain into a more productive and creativity-focused mode.
Many co-working spaces are designed with flexibility and spontaneous conversation in mind.
The other major benefit is the potential to meet other people. Many co-working spaces are designed with flexibility and spontaneous conversation in mind. If you don’t have an assigned desk, there’s a good chance you’ll be sitting next to different people each day. Some of them might be working in a similar field and would be happy to chat about creative projects.
Take breaks at home. If you’re stuck or out of ideas, it’s often better to walk away from your workstation and do something else. Water some plants, bake a delicious pie, or strum on a guitar for a while – anything that helps you to mentally reset and clear your mind. You don’t want to relax for too long, otherwise you won’t get anything done. But if you’re really stuck, taking a short but meaningful break will make you more creative and productive in the long run.
Use a paper notebook. There are all sorts of note-taking apps that work great on a phone, PC, or tablet. But many people find old-fashioned paper is a better tool for quick thoughts, doodles, and diagrams that evolve into useful ideas. If you haven’t used a notebook in a while, treat yourself to one by Moleskine, Leuchtturm1917, or Field Notes, and keep it close to wherever you normally work. Then, after a few weeks, flick through the pages and decide whether the format is having an effect on the volume and variety of ideas that you come up with.
Consider some physical media. You might have embraced the digital age and ditched your physical movies, albums, and video games. But if you work in a creative field, you might find inspiration in a beautifully-designed coffee table book, or from listening to one of your favorite vinyl records. There are many subscriptions that promise to send a different magazine, book, or record each month. These can shift your mindset and expose you to topics, stories, and ideas you might not have encountered or considered before.
An inspiring digital diet
Build a ‘creativity feed’ on social media. Open your favorite social media app on your phone: what do you see? For many, it’s a disorganized mixture of friends, family members, celebrities and brands. You can think of it as an ‘everything feed.’ To stay creative, you need a separate feed that’s focused on your passion. One that won’t distract you for hours, or require a half-hour of swiping to find something that’s inspiring or relevant to your current project.
You can do this in a few different ways. On Twitter, for example, you might want to create a List – a curated group of accounts that sits alongside your regular feed. But if you need more separation, you could just register for a second account instead.
You need a separate feed that’s focused on your passion.
A ‘creativity feed’ should be focused on quality over quantity. So consider your craft and the social network it’s most associated with. If you’re a graphic designer, for instance, Dribbble and Behance could be more useful than Twitter and Instagram. If you work in TV advertising, meanwhile, you might want to focus on YouTube and Vimeo instead.
Try an RSS reader. RSS feeds are one of the simplest ways to keep up with your favorite blogs and websites. Add them to your RSS reader of choice – something like Feedly, Reeder or Inoreader – and you’ll be updated whenever they share something new. Many RSS readers will let you organize feeds into different folders, labels, or categories. So if you’re a graphic designer, you could have separate inboxes for digital work, physical packaging, branding, and more – allowing you to drill down and focus on the medium you’re currently working in.
The advantage of an RSS reader is that it only shows what you’ve already subscribed to. Unlike most social media platforms, you won’t be bombarded with ads, promoted posts, or anything that isn’t related to your passion or profession. That should make it easier to shut out distractions and find something that’s inspiring or gives you a fresh perspective on the problem you’re trying to tackle.
Find and join an online community. If you can’t meet people in person, you should look for them online. Your ideal community might gather on social media, or a platform designed for smaller groups, like Slack and Discord. The aim is to find a group that can offer advice, mentorship, and ideas when you’re stuck. Some communities also arrange calls where everyone works on their projects at the same time. That way, the entire group is encouraged to chip away at their respective problems and, with time, find a creative breakthrough.
These are just a handful of ideas to get you started. Everyone is different and there might be something else that gets your creative juices flowing. It could be practicing yoga in the morning, making an extra-special cup of coffee before work, or using the pomodoro technique to come up with new ideas in short but highly-focused bursts of productivity.
Keep experimenting and don’t worry if you have a bad day, week or month. Research has shown that the average worker is only productive for three hours each day. You’re not a machine and shouldn’t expect to feel productive and creatively inspired all of the time.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ditch tactics and techniques that aren’t delivering. Creativity isn’t a science, after all – it’s something unique to each person that requires nurturing.