Writer’s block, number slumber, creative fatigue – call it what you will; one minute you’re working hard, feeling as efficient as a brand new boiler in winter then, bam, like a brick wall, it builds up, stopping your supercharged brain in its productive path and leaving you looking lost in your swivel chair. First port of call? A cup of tea, obviously; tastes great – but does absolutely nothing to improve the feeling that professionally, you’re wading through a sea of syrup. The upside? It’s normal. Everyone loses their headspace from time to time. The upside to the upside? There are thought processes out there that are proven to sharpen your mind and help keep your wits about you.
Throw some drama at it
By which we mean less banging your fists against your desk and flouncing out of your office slamming the door behind you, and more aiming for a dramatic change in your approach to your current working methods in order to lift any limitations you’ve subconsciously set yourself. When stuck in a rut, we can all be more easily disposed to sticking to the ‘rules’ we put in place regarding how much work we need to get done and when.
An upcoming copy deadline therefore might mean we set aside an extra half an hour at the end of the day to commit to getting more words on the page by the end of the week. Similarly, a sales professional might need to up their results, but on the same marketing budget, so might focus on simply trying to get more leads. Instead of working how you usually would in these situations then, aim for a massive change that pushes you out of your normal confines – set aside an entire working day to complete your copy deadline and make sure you push yourself to get your other work done over the four remaining days, or, in terms of sales, shelve all of your smaller leads entirely and think of a strategy to attract a handful of bigger, better and ultimately more profitable leads. It’s remarkable how much we convince ourselves we ‘can’t’ achieve more, or that aiming higher makes us too big for our boots; we can and it doesn’t, otherwise how did we get the job in the first place?
Find your flow
Any parents of small children will have become obsessed at one point or another by ‘routine’ – once you have your young child(ren) into a routine that suits your lifestyle, everything clicks and the relative calm after the tumultuous storm that is a newborn is restored. As humans, we thrive on the security of knowing what’s happening next; especially the Brits among us – can you imagine the furore if cups of tea were banned first thing in the morning? Uproar.
British idiosyncrasy aside, it was Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who managed to connect the dots and apply this principle to productivity by recognising the concept of ‘flow’, a state of consciousness in which we find ourselves completely absorbed in an activity (especially an activity which involves our creative abilities) and within which we find genuine satisfaction. “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…” he discovered. “The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Effectively, while in flow, we experience greater focus and vigour for the task at hand, and there are some tried and tested methods to channel your inner high-achiever:
- Find what focuses you. Need music on? Grab the radio and tune in to something inspirational. Need silence? Find a space with zero distractions and get set up.
- Think positively about the task at hand and envisage all of the brilliance you’re about to spill out – including how the result with help and encourage your colleagues.
- Develop a routine and stick to it. Grab a cup of coffee, turn your music on or off, find the pen that you love to click while you think, turn around and touch the ground three times – whatever your ritual consists of doesn’t matter, but it must be consistent.
- Hey presto, you’ve found your flow. Roll with it.
Ditch the to-do list
Actually, don’t. Just ditch the to-do list that you’ve probably always written. It’s all very well directing yourself to ‘finish productivity feature’, but if you’re struggling with brain strain, that pesky bullet point will likely remain undone and feature highly on tomorrow’s equally uninspiring list of instructions. So, flip it on its head – take a break from the task at hand and create a series of five-point lists that force your brain to think outside of the current box and stimulate some idea generation instead.
List five book topics that you’d choose to explore if you were to write five books; choose one ingredient and think of five different ways to cook with it to create five different meals; think of five countries that you’ve never visited and write down five reasons why you want to visit each of them; think of five jobs you’d like to do if you weren’t doing this one and note down why you think you’d be good at them; make a list of the five things you think interrupt your flow the most and reason how you could combat them… Whatever you choose to list, make sure that each one sparks your creativity by forcing your brain to come up with new ideas as opposed to straightforward choices (i.e. favourite cheeses, wines, or celebs that you’d happily add to your ‘little black book’) and not only will you kick start your cognitive methods, you might just stumble across some brilliant new ideas too.
Take a deep breath
The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda isn’t still knocking about and just as wise for no reason, and in contrast to the stunted, Western habit of shallow, mouth breathing (that we seem to adopt especially when stressed) the ancient Ayurvedic rishis outlined in detail the remarkable benefits of breathing as nature intended: in through the nose and out through the mouth. As all dedicated yogis will know, the simple act of proper breathing can balance your mind and body, allowing your flow to reengage and your creative barriers to break down. Deep breathing delivers oxygen more readily to our brains helping us to become more alert, awake and positive, so set aside 10 minutes daily to breathe deeply and your brain will thank you. Better still, take up meditation, an inexpensive and uncomplicated practice that’s not only been shown to increase IQ and relieve stress, but also encourages a higher level of brain functioning as it stimulates the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for performance, ability and advanced thinking. If you’re new to breathing and meditation, check out apps Headspace, Calm or Buddhify to get started.