You know the feeling – you’ve got a deadline in a day (or in an hour) and you’re totally going to start that paper/report/presentation. . .just as soon as you clean up your desk. And, hang on, did you forget to turn the oven off? Did you remember to feed the dog this morning? Best to go check, and get started after that. Then before you know it, you’ve actually got a deadline in about two minutes and you’re staring at a blank screen. Why does this always happen? Let’s face it: We make up distractions. We don’t even know they’re distractions and we don’t even realize we’re creating them, but ultimately they’re hindering our productivity. Here are some things you might want to do, the next time you need to get those creative juices flowing.
Let’s call B.S. on your lingering to-do list.
You can’t stop thinking about all the other little tasks you could be doing right now. If they really are little tasks, then just get them done so you’re free to fully concentrate on the task at hand. But you also have to know there will always, always be a list of things to do. Unless something is really pressing (i.e. showering, paying rent), you might want to consider casting that list out of your brain—or at least removing it from your desk—while you focus on the real task at hand.
Quit feeling like it’s your job to check the Internet.
Maybe it’s Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Instagram. Or your email, where you realize that your favorite store is having a sale, and you should probably just check that out really quickly. . . When a deadline looms, close down all your other programs except the one you should be working in, or download one of those handy tools that prevents you from distracting yourself with the Interweb. You could also hit up a coffee shop with no WI-FI if you really want to teach your Internet-obsessed brain a lesson.
Don’t even think about “cleaning” your workspace first.
You’ve sat down and are ready to get down to business, when, hold on, is your coffee mug really that dirty? And why is that pile of papers such a mess? Visually it’s easy to get distracted by our own disorganization. If your desk is really that messy, just relocate yourself to somewhere you can’t be distracted by your own clutter. Coffee shop, maybe? Whatever you do, don’t clean. That’s just creating a distraction from your real work.
Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of time.
To me, the creative process works best when I really have time to think about what I want to do, put it in writing, and then go back and tweak and edit until I have something I’m really happy with. This works great when you start things well in advance. It works terribly when you put things off and instead of generating something of quality you waste all your energy panicking about how behind you are. So pick a day when you’ve got nothing but time to sit down and get to work. This way, you can’t use the clock as an excuse to stop working or to wrap things up too soon.
Stop being hungry/having to go to the bathroom. You’re good.
Sometimes you sit down to get something done, and then realize that you’re hungry, and now instead of working you’re just fantasizing about what your next meal is going to be. Or maybe it’s that you really need to go to the bathroom, or you’re too hot/cold, or you’re antsy because you haven’t worked out yet today, and you’re now too distracted by physical discomfort to actually get any work done. Make sure you’ve got all your basic needs checked off before really trying to get something done. Basically, make it so your body can’t make any excuses for you to get up.
Just start. Just start!
You’re not in the mood. By this, I don’t mean you feel like you’d rather be watching Netflix than getting something done. I mean, there are those times when everything’s clicking and the ideas are flowing and creating things is just easy. And then there are those times when getting ideas out of your brain feels like pulling teeth. Unfortunately, those creative periods don’t always coincide with our deadlines, but if you have the freedom to drop everything and work when the mood strikes you, it makes everything so much easier. If you don’t, it helps to just take a 10-minute walk or hop in the shower.
Just do something that physically changes your state of mind. Then come back to your work and just force yourself to cross the starting line. You don’t have to finish any project you start, all you have to do is kick it off. Knowing that will take the pressure off. The easier time you have accessing your creative side, the easier time you’ll have actually digging in and enjoying the process.