7 Stages Of Creative Block & How To Cure It

Whiteboard: Weekly Musings from inside the Design Department at Haneke Design.

If you have ever fallen victim to creative block, you are not alone. It’s time to step away from your distractions and clear your mind to refocus on the task at hand.

Stage 1

You’re staring at the screen moving elements back and forth 1 pixel at a time. Move it a little to the left? Nope, too crowded. Move it to the right? Nope. Let’s try it up here, still a fat no! You look at the clock and realize you only have a couple hours left to finish. You’ve been shuffling pixels aimlessly across your screen for hours and you aren’t any farther along now than when you started.

Stage 2

Time is ticking. What do you do? Do you keep doing what you’re doing? Stick with the ground and pound approach? With enough sweat and determination, you can squeeze that square peg into the round hole. Eventually everything will come together but only after getting so stressed out you have added 5 years to your life.

Stage 3

You can go down the blackhole of “research”. You start looking through inspirational sites like Dribbble or Behance. Trying to find a glimmer of inspiration. Anything to get the spark that will guide you out of this mess.

Stage 4

But before you know it you’ve ended up recreating one of the designs you were using to inspire you. Or you starting clicking on a link within a link within a link and end up watching hours of cat videos on Youtube.

Stage 5

Now the deadline has passed and you have to come up with an excuse as to why you’re not done.

You’re pounding coffee and figuring out how to tell your wife date night is off, because you have to work all night.

Sidenote: If you end up in this scenario, blame it on your computer. It crashed, deleted the files, the MCP took over the grid and deleted the Crom.

Or you simply get up and walk away. Force quit, cmd + shift + esc.

Stage 6

Walking away can be the most productive thing you can do. Put your shoes on, grab your wallet (phone and headphones are optional) and go for a walk. Walk to the coffee shop, walk around your block. If it’s raining, walk around the office. Small office, sick or injured? Get out the sketchpad and pencil you have by your side (you do have one right?) and start doodling. Sketch the clutter away. Run it off.

Whatever you do, get away and distract your mind. Your mind is a machine, a tool that needs periodic rest. It needs a chance to decompress.

This may sound counterproductive or even feel like you are giving up. But you’re not (at least not yet).

Stage 7

And while you’re doing the non-computer activity, try not to think. Thoughts about the project may come in, and you will get distracted — that’s okay. Push them away for a little longer. Clear your mind of the clutter. It’s hard to do, but with practice you can do it. You can learn to shut off and just be. This can take 5 minutes or an hour. Don’t think about work, the clock or deadlines. Don’t think about Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Just be present in the now. Focus on clearing your head. Clear your mind so the good ideas can worm their way through the grey matter.

CURES

If you’re like me, the best ideas don’t always come while I am in front of a computer. They come to me when I am in the shower, when I am driving my long drive home or doing some other mundane task. They come when I am nowhere near a computer (which is why I always have a pen and paper on me. But that’s another story for another day).

Once you stop looking you will find what you need. I call this “The Lego Theory.”

I am sure there is some scientific name applied to this theory, but I don’t know what it is. Growing up, I spent hours upon sleepless hours building things with legos. If I wasn’t drawing I was building. And no matter how much time I spent in my suitcase of legos, (yes my legos were stored in a suitcase) I could never find the brick I was looking for. I would spend just as long finding the one I needed for a castle I was building as I did actually building the castle. By accident, I learned that as soon as I stopped looking for the 2 studded brick I needed and went on to something else, I found the 2 studded brick I needed. And it was usually sitting right in front of me, in a pile of bricks I had searched numerous times already.

At an early age I learned to force myself to take a break, clear the mental clutter so I can truly see what is in front of me. A nice yellow 2 studded brick.

This sudden clarity might not give you exactly the idea you need.

I would get so obsessed finding the brick that I forgot I didn’t need that one. I needed the 4 studded one. But I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t found what I thought I needed.

So, when the deadline is looming and the ideas are stalled — walk away and take a break (just not for too long).


Daniel Herman is an Associate Design Director as Haneke Design. When he is not designing mobile apps and websites, you can find him woodworking, playing with his dogs, or critiquing SciFi movies.

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