Creatively blocked? Blame the deadline

Jul 15, 2015

While the NPA (National Procrastinator’s Association) may protest, it seems that deadlines do not, in fact, trigger last-minute creative epiphanies. Neuroscientist John Kounious asserts that deadlines motivate productivity, while true creativity surfaces when you’re calm and happy, not burning the midnight oil.

It all comes down to mood. In a negative frame of mind, we’re far more likely to dismiss an idea, but when we’re feeling positive, we tend to follow the idea which allows the mind to turn up new possibilities.

But never fear, fellow NPA members, John Kounious has a word for managers of creative-types: Rather than hard deadlines, give your artistically oriented contractors a soft deadline!

...Now wouldn’t that be nice.

Kounious shared some alternative tips for sparking creativity in a lengthy Q&A with The Washington Post. His suggestions include:

1. Be in a good mood.

Bad news, suffering artists--your misery isn’t making you more creative. A positive mood primes the brain for taking creative risks and exploring new ideas.

2. Seek wide open spaces.

Cramped spaces yield cramped thought processes. Go for a walk or angle your desk towards a window to start thinking big.

3. Remove all sharp objects.

We’ve always known that creatives with pointy things come to no good, but did you know that even particularly angular furniture can mess with the muse?

The ideal space for creativity is large, well-lit and full of soft, rounded objects. Kind of like a padded room!

4. Surround yourself with the colors of nature.

We tend to associate the lush greens and true blues of nature with a sense of calm. Bright neons and shades of red, meanwhile, can put us on edge.

This one is purely associative, however, pick a color that takes you to your happy place!

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5. Take a break!

Nothing solves a problem like walking away from it. ‘Nuff said.

6. Go to bed.

Sleep supercharges creativity. Though most of us freelancers may be high-functioning workaholics, sleep (and self-care) should never suffer -- or your creativity might.

7. Do nothing.

Yep. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t watch TV. Just go ahead and get good and bored. You’ll be amazed at your own propensity to entertain yourself.

8. Take a shower.

You’ve heard of sensory deprivation, right? Well, a shower is kind of like sensory deprivation-lite. The water’s warm, the barrier between it and your skin feels fluid, and you’re surrounded by nice white noise. No wonder we all get our best ideas there.

So, next time you’re thinking about waiting until the last minute to get a creative project done, try giving yourself some time and applying one (or many) of Dr. Kounious’ recommendations to your process. And tell us, what’s your secret sauce to the creative process?

A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about sustainability, technology, poetry and pop culture. Find her @Pennyscientist or on Freelancers Union.

Laura Murphy

A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture.