What do you do when your usual sources of inspiration suddenly go away, but all the creative work remains? It’s a question a lot of marketers face as they slash the number of places they go on a given day.
And really there’s only one right answer: Adapt.
Fortunately, there are so many ways to cultivate creativity while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.
As a full-time remote worker going on 2 years, here are my recommendations based on what I have found works for me:
1. Read more books
Nearly anything that has ever been felt by humankind is documented somewhere in books. Reading about what other people have been through – fictionally or otherwise – can expand your sense of empathy. That, in turn, makes it much easier to escape from your usual thought cycles.
Plus, books teach you cool stuff – the inspiring, the interesting and the truly bizarre.
For instance, did you know that people living on tall mountains travel through time faster than those living at sea level? It has to do with a phenomenon called gravitational time dilation.
I learned that in a book.
2. Make creativity a habit
Before you can excel at your job, you first have to log into the remote office every day. Creativity is a lot like that; you have to show up.
That doesn’t mean maintaining Michael Jordan-esque consistency of greatness. It means making a conscious effort to push past doldrums – that feeling of really “forcing it.”
Inertia is a part of daily life for anyone who subjects themselves to a career that demands day-in, day-out creativity.
And some days will be met with more creative friction than others.
If you’re a copywriter, that could mean having to write even when all the right words are playing hard to get. If you’re a designer, it means reluctantly committing to a mockup, because even if you realize a third of the way through that it’s all wrong, you’ve made some progress toward figuring out what “just right” might look like.
Ernest Hemmingway rewrote the ending of “A Farewell to Arms” 13 times before he got it “just right.”
Creativity shies away from even the most creative people. Make a habit of pursuing it.
3. Step away from the computer
Sometimes you hit a wall midway through a project, creative or otherwise. Maybe you’re really struggling to make sense of anomalous data in Google Search Console.
Whether it’s data, raw video footage waiting to get spliced into a corporate promo or an email you’re sending out to mid-market prospects, you might just have to step away from your work for a minute.
If you don’t, you’ll eventually get frustrated, at which point, your focus is shifted away from the problem you’re trying to solve and channeled toward your inability to solve it. That inner-turmoil is not conducive to creativity. Many of our best ideas brush up against us like a leaf in the woods. They’re easy to miss, especially if you’re focusing on your own frustration or anxiety.
Going for a walk can provide some relief. Just make sure you wear a mask and that you actually use that stroll as a way to empty your mind, and not just a different setting to furiously contemplate the issue.
I find that playing with my dog for 5 minutes helps. One of my co-workers plays laser tag with his daughter.
Whatever you do, just make sure you physically step away from the workstation (and yes, that includes your phone).
4. Do something meditative once a day
A jigsaw puzzle. Whittling. Yoga. Getting really lost in a video game. Playing Scrabble. Plucking some strings on the guitar. Sitting in silence and watching the trees while nursing a cup of coffee. All of these things can have a meditative effect on the mind.
People have a tendency to declare war on their own thoughts. It can be exhausting.
A non-judgemental, meditative state of mind silences the drill sergeant in your brain and encourages the free flow of ideas.
This isn’t one of those things that happens right away. Rather, think of it as a kind of therapy that you do every day, maybe for just 15 minutes.
In addition to temporarily muting some of the noise between your ears and creating a safe space for thought, a meditative activity can reassemble an attention span that has been pulled apart by 50 different forms of stimuli.
If nothing else, it will help you be a little more focused. You might even start seeing some interesting parallels between your hobby and what you do as a marketer.
5. Listen to music and other audio
Every minute of every day that I’m not on a call, I’m listening to music.
Most of the time it’s instrumental stuff without lyrics because I sometimes get more interested in the words I’m hearing than the ones I’m trying to get on the page.
“Lo-Fi Beats” is my resident playlist:
“Cozy acoustic mornings” is nice for tempering the excitement of a Thursday or Friday and helping you focus (but it will send you back to sleep on Monday).
Anything by Ratatat helps me get through Monday or Tuesday (self-titled, LP3 and Classics in particular):
And should you ever find yourself in a situation where you have a lot of creative work to do in a short period of time, I’ve found that “Rage Against the Machine” – despite all the in-your-face words, the yelling and the cussing – helps.
Oddly enough, I’ve also had success listening to the BBC World News report at a low volume.
And lest we forget, there’s an endless array of classical music and film scores on Spotify and other audio-streaming services.
My go to, when all-else fails, is the Amelie soundtrack:
Don’t get too attached and know when to cut your losses
You’re not going to be a creative genius everyday – not during a pandemic, not during normal times, not ever.
And if you work on deadlines like the vast majority of the working world, you won’t have the luxury of waiting for lighting to strike, nor will you necessarily have the bandwidth to step away from your work.
That, unfortunately, is a cold truth of our trade. Sometimes, you need to detach from whatever it is you’re working on – meaning, stop trying to make it a masterpiece. Take a deep breath, and just make your work as good as you believe you can with the time and resources you have.
More often than not, that’s more than enough.