Whether it’s writing, coding, or design, plenty of web workers are in creative fields. If you’re one of them, you undoubtedly know the horrifying feeling of being completely stuck: having a looming deadline and just not feeling the creative spark that you need to complete your work. Despite journalist Gene Fowler’s claim that the cure was to stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead, there are other ways to get the juices flowing again. Here are four of our favorites:
1. Do something different. Just as sleeping on it can help you learn a new skill, stepping away from a creative problem for a while gives your subconscious a while to come up with new approaches. This isn’t procrastination (especially if you’re actually working on something else), but a way to let a different part of your brain work on the problem. One tip: stop in mid-stream, if you can. If you’re writing, this means stepping away in the middle of a paragraph; if you’re coding, quit in the middle of a function. This makes it much easier to pick up the flow when you return to the stalled work after a few hours or a day.
2. Mind map your way out of the dead end. Sometimes the issue isn’t so much that you can’t get anything done on the project as that you don’t know what comes next. This is a great time to turn to mind-mapping, using any of the variety of tools that are out there. With mind-mapping, you can nibble off any part of the project that you see clearly, and gradually build bridges back to where you are. After a while, fully-developed mind map in hand, you’ll be all set to flesh out the main project from start to finish.
3. Engage in some instant brainstorming. It can be tough to get together a group for a full-blown traditional brainstorming session to solve your own individual creativity problems, and the academic research on brainstorming hasn’t all been positive either. But it’s easy to try this lightweight alternative, ideally suited for the web worker: pick two or three likely friends from your instant messenger lists whose status messages show that they might be free and invite them into an ad-hoc online conference. Set a time limit – five or ten minutes – explain your problem, and ask for as many ideas as people can generate. Be prepared to swap off and do the idea-generation duty for your friends in return, of course.
4. Use an online creativity tool. You’re a web worker, turn to the web! Sites like BrainReactions, Mouse Brains, and Jump Start can help get you out of a slump and merrily creating again. Don’t depend on these sites to hand you a fully-developed creative campaign. Where they shine is in breaking you free from being focused on one particular approach that isn’t working, and helping you see alternatives that might be more fruitful.
What do you do when you’re stuck? Add your own best tips to the comments below!