You have so many ideas bouncing around in your brain that sometimes you wonder how you’ll ever be able to make them all a reality. There are big things you want to accomplish at the office and creative projects you want to experiment with in your free time. With limited hours in the day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your own thoughts and intimidated by the prospect of actually doing anything about them.
There are, however, ways to set yourself up for more creative success. And while you might already be quite familiar with the things you should do in order to achieve maximum creativity, you might be less current on what you shouldn’t do.
With that in mind, we reached out to lifestyle and creativity experts for their advice: What seemingly harmless habits are we engaging in on a daily basis that are actually making us less creative and productive? How can we make adjustments to those routines so we can be at our best? Scroll down for all the details.
1. Browsing Too Much Social Media
While you might argue that there’s inspiration to be found in scrolling through beautiful photos and learning more about the cool things that other people are accomplishing, licensed psychotherapist and writing coach Lisa Hutchison explains that spending too much time on social media can be counterproductive for creative pursuits. “When you get caught up in the social media frenzy of chasing the latest posts and stories, you are avoiding your own creativity,” she says. “Your mind shuts down and you disconnect from inspiration. This is a sign you need to be creating your own stories and activities.” You might be sick of hearing about all of the downsides of social media (sorry!), but remember that most things are better in moderation.
2. Mixing Free Time With Creative Time
Unstructured, unscheduled time is not the same as dedicated time for exploring your passions — confusing the two or thinking that both can be accomplished at once is a big mistake. Notejoy founder and COO Ada Chen Rekhi points out that many great artists and thinkers are known for setting aside dedicated time for their work and creativity. They didn’t just stumble into a few free hours and casually decide to pick up a brush or start writing. When you’re intentional with your time, you’ll show up focused and ready to be productive.
3. Putting Up With Too Many Noises
Most of us are so used to living our lives amid chaos that we don’t even realize when it’s happening… or when it’s become detrimental to our creative sparks. If you’re feeling like you can’t really get into a creative undertaking, take a minute to consider all of the sneaky noises that are coming your way. Turning down the dial on those sounds could be a real game-changer. “When you’re turned into something else, your thoughts hang there and distract you from your own internal voice,” feminist life coach Renee M. Powers tells us. “Try turning off the television or the radio and see what bubbles up. You’ll be surprised where your mind goes when everything else is quiet.” (Phone notifications count as noise too, so don’t forget to switch to silent when you need to focus.)
4. Working at Your Desk
Whether in or out of the office, spending too much time sitting at a desk in the same environment can seriously dull your creative abilities, cautions life coach Andrea Travillian. If you’re feeling uninspired at work, consider asking your boss to move a routine staff meeting outside, or see if it might be possible to work remotely once a week. If a lack of creativity is stalling endeavors outside of work, switch up that routine: Jump in the car and take your project to a new location. (Even moving to the kitchen table or a lap desk in the living room could be enough to bump you out of your rut.)
5. Not Laughing Enough
“While art may be a serious business, it is still a product of your soul,” creative writer and coach Caroline Topperman reminds us. “If you’re pent up and stressed out, it will be much more difficult to let the creativity out. Grab a coffee with some friends or hang out with your dog, and try to get at least one hearty belly laugh in a day.” In addition to being the best medicine, maybe laughter is also the best inspiration!
6. Doing Too Much Research
If you’re passionate about an idea you have in the works, it’s likely you’ve spent some time digging up background before you actually get started. And why wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t want to start down a road only to find that you’re not actually ready to take the project on. There is, however, such a thing as too much research, when it starts getting in the way of ever actually starting something you can realistically achieve. “The deadliest creative killer is ‘looking for inspiration,’” says artist and author Lloyd Martin. “While you are looking, you are not creating — the work avoidance wins.”
7. Eating a Heavy Lunch
We’ve been there — all hyped up for a delicious break after a morning of hard work, then brought to a crashing halt in the afternoon by the resulting full belly. When a pile of takeout leaves you feeling desperate for a nap, it can be hard to say whether it was really worth it, and a big lunch can be tough on your creative juices too. “If you come back from lunch feeling stuffed, you can be sure your creativity will be taking a nap,” notes healthy living expert Jayne Williams. “You’ll need so much energy to [digest] that pizza or pasta that you won’t have any left for your brain. Foggy brains and creativity don’t mix.”
8. Taking the Same Route Home Every Day
It’s human nature (for most of us, at least) to figure out a comfortable, mostly-time-efficient way to travel from one place to another… and to stick with it. After all, why change things up when you know you’ve figured out the ideal commute? But life coach and motivational speaker Stacia Pierce has a good reason. “Taking the same route home is so mundane and can blind you from creative moments,” she explains. “Just by turning a few extra corners on the way home or getting off a few stops before your destination, you open yourself up to meeting new people, seeing something inspiring, and sparking your creativity.” If all roads lead home anyway, you might as well try a new one!
9. Scheduling Back-to-Back Meetings
Some of this is out of your control — a girl’s gotta keep her commitments at the office — but if there’s any way for you to be proactive about creating some buffer time between meetings, you might find that it will make you more creative in both your professional and personal lives. “When we are rushing from one thing to the next, we often miss the opportunity to be creative,” life coach and mindfulness expert Elizabeth Su says. Even a 15-minute break can go a long way toward helping you get back into a creative mindset after a long meeting… And that will really pay off in the next meeting and beyond.
10. Eating Out Too Much
“Going out to eat can tank your creativity,” novelist and author coach Holly Ostrout tells us. “It’s one of those mindless activities we tend to get in the habit of doing that takes away a time that we normally would have gone into a more meditative state of mind: cooking dinner. Cooking lets you zone out while performing a task, and that’s one of the best times to get great ideas.” Try to stop thinking of cooking as a chore, and instead consider it a time that keeps your hands busy while your brain unleashes massive creativity. You’ll think twice next time you start browsing take-out menus online.
11. Constantly Working Under Tight Deadlines
Like it or not, deadlines are a part of life — but if you can find ways to make those deadlines feel a little less restrictive, it will really pay off for you creatively. Try working further ahead of those due dates if you tend to procrastinate, or talk to your manager or clients about getting them on the calendar earlier if the crunch is external. “Sometimes, tight deadlines are necessary, but you may be able to receive an extension on certain projects in order to give yourself time to foster new ideas and approaches,” advises IvyWise CEO and founder Dr. Kat Cohen. This will be especially helpful if high levels of creativity are expected from you on the job.