Self-Motivating Through Creative Blocks

As designers, we need to be creative in order to be successful at our jobs.

Coming up with ideas and creative solutions to problems is what we do on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to do so.

Sometimes we get blocked creatively, and it seems like no matter how hard we try, we just can’t come up with a creative solution to anything.

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do that can help you overcome a block in your creativity. First you’ll need to understand why you’re blocked, and then try some simple techniques to get over that blockage.

In this article, we’ll also cover a few ideas for finding motivation when your lack of desire to work is the root of your creativity problems.


Reasons for Creative Blockages


Before we can overcome a creative block, it’s important to figure out what is causing it. Without knowing the root cause, we don’t really know the best methods for getting over a blockage. In most cases, blocks are caused by one of four things:

1. Working Too Hard
If you find yourself with a creative block, think about how much you’ve been working lately. If you work ten hour days or never take days off, you may be blocked because you’re just working too hard and too much. Most people don’t have an unlimited supply of creativity. After a few hours or a few days, we need time to replenish those creative reserves.

2. Lack of Sleep
Being tired tends to zap creativity faster than anything else. If you’re not getting enough sleep every night, you can’t expect to be as creative as you would be if you’re well-rested. Not everyone necessarily needs eight hours of sleep a night, so it’s important to figure out how much sleep you need to be at your optimal creative levels. Note: Sometimes too much sleep can be just as bad for your creativity as too little.

3. Stress
Whether it’s things in your personal life causing you stress or something at work, stress is a major killer of creativity. Finding ways to minimize the stress in your life is a great way to boost your creativity. Whether you do that by eliminating the things causing you stress or simply by finding ways to deal with it (like meditation or exercise) is up to you.

4. Fear
Fear can freeze your creativity more solidly than virtually anything else. Sometimes you might be afraid to finish the current project because you have nothing else lined up after it. Other times you might be afraid the client isn’t going to like what you’ve done, or that your peers won’t appreciate the design. In either case, overcoming your fear is going to be paramount to getting your creativity back and finishing the project.


Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks


Hopefully you’ve been able to nail down exactly why you’re suffering from a creative block. Now it’s time to get down to overcoming it. There are a lot of techniques you can utilize to get over almost any kind of creative blockage. Here are some of the best:

Take a Break
If you’re creatively blocked, taking a break from whatever you’re working on can do wonders. Work on something else for a bit, or take a day off. When you’ve got some distance from your project and aren’t thinking about it anymore, you might be surprised at the ideas that will start flowing.

Take a Nap
This is particularly important if you think your creative blockage might be due to a lack of sleep. Taking a nap, even if it’s just for twenty or thirty minutes, can let your creative batteries recharge and give you new ideas. Even if your creativity blockage isn’t because of a lack of sleep, a nap can still give you a fresh perspective on your work. If you’re a morning person, an afternoon nap can even help reset your creativity levels to what they are when you get up in the morning.

Take a Walk
A change of setting can often open up your creative flood gates better than anything else. Walking can also let your mind wander, which can result in finding new, creative solutions. Some people like to take long walks, maybe for an hour or two to free up their creativity, while others find just a quick, ten-minute walk around their block does the trick. You’ll have to experiment to see what works for you.

Do Something Mundane
This is one of the best tricks out there for unblocking your creativity. Doing some mundane task allows your brain to relax and wander, much as it does when you take a walk. Cleaning is often one of the best mundane tasks for overcoming a creative block, whether it’s vacuuming or washing dishes or dusting. The bonus here is that in many cases you’re completing other work that needs to get done. Make sure whatever mundane task you choose requires some physical activity but little or no concentration.

Switch Your Tools
As designers, we generally use the same tools over and over again for each project. The same software, same hardware, same notebooks, pens, etc. If you change the tools you’re using, you may find ideas flow a little better. Try hand-coding for awhile in just a text editor, or use a different graphics program for a little while. If you normally use a computer-based wire-framing program, considering switching to paper for a bit (or vice versa). Making a small change in how you work can have a remarkable effect on how creative you’re feeling.

Look for Inspiration
Finding new inspiration can do wonders for your creativity. If you’re blocked on a certain project, try looking at similar projects others have created. You can also try to find inspiration in other design work or outside the design world. If you want to create a new website layout, for example, maybe spend some time looking at magazine layouts for inspiration.

Force Yourself
Sometimes the only way to get over a creative blockage is to push through it. You might have tried all the techniques above and still not be able to find your creativity again. If that’s the case, then just keep moving forward with the project. Sometimes, once you get past a certain part of the project, you may get over your creative block. You might also be able to then look at the part of the project that was giving you problems once it’s finished and figure out a better way to redo it. Or you might find that pushing through results in a perfectly acceptable solution that you and your client are both happy with.


Self-Motivating Tricks


Sometimes it’s not so much that we don’t know how to overcome a creative block as it’s just that we have no motivation to do so. For freelancers, especially, finding motivation can be difficult at times.

Even if you normally have no problem motivating yourself, almost everyone gets hit by a lack of motivation at one point or another, and this can often lead to a creative block. Finding motivation again can be tricky, but there are a few things you can do to get yourself working again.

Small Rewards
Using small rewards as you reach certain milestones in your project can be a great way to get your creativity flowing again. If you know that after you complete a certain bit of your work that you can go out to eat, or go hang out with your friends or family, you’re more likely to just push through the creative block (which can end up freeing things up). These small rewards should be something you enjoy that you maybe don’t get to do every day or every week. The key here is to stick to it and not take your reward until you’ve met your goal.

Big Rewards
Big rewards can be a great motivator for getting over a more severe creative block and finishing a big project. What this big reward is will depend on you. For some people, it might be taking a day or two off. For others it might be buying something you’ve been eying for awhile. Regardless of what the reward is, it can serve as a great motivator for loosening up a creative block. And if nothing else, it can motivate you to push through the block and get the work done.

Don’t overlook music as both a motivator and a way to free up your creativity. Put on something with a good beat, especially something fast, and you might be surprised at how much it can motivate you. Try to tailor the music to the project you’re working on. If you’re designing something young and hip, put on some club music or pop. If you’re designing something elegant and sophisticated, put on classical music or something like Frank Sinatra. Music that fits the project can get your creativity moving in the right direction.

Don’t Let Yourself Work
This one seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes forcing yourself to take a break and not work can free up your creative flow. A forced hiatus can leave you eager to get back to work and filled with new ideas. If you can, take a break of a couple days. Do anything but work, and try not to even think about your work. You’ll probably find after a day or so, you can’t not think about your current project and your head is full of new ideas. Don’t got back to work as soon as that happens. Force yourself to take another day or two before you start working again so you’ve got so many ideas they’ll keep you going for awhile.

Written exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman.

Do you have your own techniques for overcoming blocks in your creativity? Or other ideas on where those blocks come from in the first place? Please share them in the comments!

  • S.M.Karthick

    Good Post.Thanks!

    • Houshang

      Hey it’s Johnny Cage!

  • Rashid Rupani

    Nice Tips….

  • Rachel

    Thanks for such a great article Cameron. It’s really important to think about how we can self motivate ourselves – I went through a spell of creative block a few months ago, and wish this article had been around then! Brilliant though – it is also really important, as mentioned, to know when to take a break as well.

  • Nordli

    Great post, i always use music to break through when i’m not feeling creative.

  • Preston

    Nice article, Cameron. Surprisingly enough I feel like I get more creative blocks when I don’t work enough. What I mean is, if I am feeling lazy, get out of my routine, or haven’t worked on a design project in a few days or weeks, it’s much harder for me to get back in to the swing of things. Sometimes pushing through a project even when I feel too lazy is a great way for me to stay motivated and creative.

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

  • Pontus Ekman

    Probably just what I needed, right now. Although I also agree with Preston, it can be hard to get back in to the swing after some (well deserved) lazyness. I think finding balance is the key. I’ll let you know when I find it…

  • A Different Designer

    Thanks, looks like i’ll be making time for the beach this weekend.

  • Hastimal Shah

    Nice Article.. Its great tips for self motivations..

  • Gaurav Mishra

    works for meee :D

  • div

    Thanks for the tips Cameron. Really useful…. :)

  • Annie

    Great article! Thanks :)
    I like Preston’s advice. It happens to me too, when i’m busier I find it easier to keep going, so sometimes the solution is to keep yourself busy.
    Other techniques that can be good is going outside and getting a cup of coffee, it gives you a few minutes to breathe and rest.
    Swimming (or just sitting by the beach, if you have that option) can also help creativity sometimes..

  • pesho

    nice :)

  • Daniel

    Thanks for sharing.

    The “lack of sleep” point definitely applies to me. Will try to get a vacation by the end of the year.

  • Scott

    Music always helps me work. I’m not much of a radio listener so it usually tends to be to my collection as well.

  • Ben Stokes

    Nice article – I find doing the dishes helps me to overcome the block :D And indeed music will always help you out . . .

  • Michelle

    I enjoy the relaxing bubblebath method.

    Creativity unlocked is of course proportional to both the amount of bubbles and the amount of drinks and biscuits the boy brings me, or at least that’s what I tell him.

  • Mike Kemp

    Great post. While I don’t think of myself as a creative person, per se, I do “get stuck,” and over the years have found several ways to unstick. There’s a fundamental connection between mental state and physical state, so if you’re stuck, often all it takes is some “dramatic” physical shift. That’s over-simplifying it, a lot, but that’s what it boils down to…

    You touched on it with your music example: “Put on something with a good beat, especially something fast, and you might be surprised at how much it can motivate you.” I’ve heard that listening to 20 minutes of upbeat music will create a substantial shift in attitude.

    The weirdest-sounding example I can offer is: stand up and spin. Turn in circles, like when you were a little kid. I know, it sounds odd, but try it sometime. Spin for a little bit, until you feel a little dizzy (be careful not to go too long… you can fall!). It works; a client of mine used this to “unterrorize” his mind immediately before a job interview.

    Another easy one is to make “lazy eights” with your eyes. There are a few variations on this technique, but the essence of it is to slowly and smoothly “draw” horizontal eights (think infinity sign) with your eyes, going gently around the perimeter of your vision, without moving your head. Do four going left-to-right, and then four going right-to-left. The Brain Gym folks use a variation very successfully with their kids; they have the kids use their arms, extended out in front of them, or they have them do two-handed, synchronized drawing.

    The two I use the most, though, are: 1. Get up and go do something, anything, that’s productive. Last week I cleaned the drain under the bathroom sink. 2. Go for a walk.



  • George

    If I have a creative block, I clean up the room and change my workspace. Maybe I put the flowers on the table or I change my direction etc. It really helps.