How to stay creative when you just can’t anymore

Hint: it’s got to do with making lists

We all have good days and bad days. Me? I have a lot of good weeks, followed by a mind-numbing week of crippling depression. My motivation is completely drained, I lose the urge to get out of bed in the morning, and I crawl through the days in a trance — robotically doing the motions, with a heavy, dark cloud hovering in my chest.

I know you’re reading this because you probably go through something similar; you want to know how to stay motivated during these low points.

The answer is, it’s very very tough. Sometimes it feels impossible — I feel like giving up and just waiting out the low period. I know it’ll fade eventually. Then, after it’s gone, I berate myself for the time I wasted.

As I type this, I’m going through a low spell myself. In an effort to make myself useful, I thought of writing down some of the things I try to do whenever the storm hits.

Lists are my safe space. Lists clear my mind like no form of meditation ever could. Most of us are conditioned to feel guilty when we’re not doing something worthwhile with our time. When you’re down, make a list of all the things you’re feeling guilty about not doing.

Here’s mine.

Did you write it all down? Good. Now segregate your items into two columns:

  1. Things you HAVE to do right now e.g. things that have a deadline, or things that can’t be put off for more than a week
  2. Long-term tasks, that can be put off for a few weeks at most
Know thyself by knowing thy priorities

Does your head feel a little bit lighter? You’ve dumped most of your worries on to this piece of paper, and now your mind should have more space to focus on the next steps.

Look at Column 1 in your list, mark the deadlines in your calendar. Now, step back and give yourself some breathing room.

Say you’ve got to write an article about cats. Think you can finish it in 3 days? Great. Now set a mock deadline — If your actual deadline is 7 days from now, give yourself a 4-day window (this is a period of time before you absolutely have to start working on it).

Voila! You now have 4 days to relax without worrying about your upcoming tasks. Otherwise, you’d have spent all 7 days working half-heartedly and worrying about how you’re going to finish the article.

It’s nothing but a psychological trick. In the back of my mind, as long as I’m not missing my mock deadline, I’m good to go.

I’ve read a lot of articles that advise you to power through your creative block by forcing yourself to sit down in front of a computer, a canvas, or a blank sheet of paper.

So I tried it. I took their advice, and I sat myself down and stared at my computer screen. Empty. Silence. As the hours passed by, I grew increasingly morose at not being able to produce anything of quality. This, in turn, compounded my melancholy.

Don’t force creativity. If you squeeze out ketchup from an empty bottle, you’re only going to get dried up coagulated lumpy tomato paste.

Do anything except what you’re supposed to. Binge a TV show, cook, listen to music or just go for a walk. Liberate yourself from the pressure of productivity.

Note: if you don’t have the privilege to put off deadlines or take a breather, this article probably isn’t for you anyway.

Exercise helps. A LOT. This is coming from someone as lazy as me, and I can’t deny it.

I’ve found the best time to picture your best self is when you’re exercising. Instead of working out with an empty mind, try visualising yourself having achieved everything you wanted to. 6-pack abs? Bestselling author? Millionaire CEO featured in Forbes 30 under 30? Let your imagination run wild. Exaggerate!

This, combined with the endorphins released during your workout, will give you a temporary release from that crippling low.

It’s hard to feel motivated when your mood is out of your control. I’m a moody person. Sometimes I can cope with it, while sometimes it cripples me beyond hope. All we can do is try our best.

And, you know what? After writing down this piece, I kind of feel better already. Do you?

UX Writer & Content Writer — Let’s chat 🖱️ mdas.co.in