“We have a new project and the timeline is completely unrealistic, but I need you thinking creatively. We need your best work – real outside of the box thinking.”
Maybe those weren’t his exact words, but it’s what I heard. Although, I do know for sure he said “outside of the box” because he says it every time.
If your role has anything to do with being creative, I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation.
After these types of kick-off meetings, I’m always filled with anxiety. But as I went back to my desk and stared at the project details, a wave of excitement hit me. “A new project will be a great change of pace. This is going to be fun!” Those thoughts quickly turn back to, “How am I going to get this done in time?! And how am I going to do it to my own standards?”
In my experience, creativity isn’t something that can be instantly fabricated. It takes time to come up with a good idea, and then there’s planning and execution. Not to mention, a natural, emotional rollercoaster we, as creatives, ride throughout a project. “I love this, I hate this, I can’t do this, I think I got this, nope…”
My friend, and fellow creative, Andrew Manzella created this awesome depiction of that emotional rollercoaster. He texted me this picture while I was in the “everyone is going to know I’m a fraud” point:
Here’s a more readable rendition:
His drawing made me realize I’m not alone in this. Everyone who creates stuff goes through the same emotional highs and lows.
If you’re struggling through the creative process, here are some simple ways you can maintain your sanity while navigating a project:
Realize Your Emotional Pattern (and Accept it).
I could relate to the cycle Andrew sent, but maybe yours is slightly different. More importantly than realizing your pattern is being able to accept it. Then, you can work with your creative cycle, not against it. Try to uncover your patterns of thinking. When you feel yourself hitting a low or having a trouble, look at your pattern. It will keep you grounded in reality, and you’ll be reminded you aren’t far from the next high point.
Communicate Your Working Process with Your Colleagues/Team.
Tired of the added stress of constantly being asked, “Where are we? How is it looking?” Sharing Andrew’s picture with my colleagues helped them understand what I was feeling at different points throughout a project. If you’re at a down point, it can be very alarming to someone who doesn’t understand a creative person’s brain. They may begin to doubt your abilities and worry about the project being complete. Then they’ll hover over you and add extra pressure to “be creative”. We all know that doesn’t work. So instead, share your process and say something like, “This is what it looks like when I’m working on a project. It’s part of my process. I’m sharing it with you so you know it will all work out, even if it doesn’t seem that way to start.”
Let Your Colleagues Know How They Can Support You
This is critical. People, by their nature, will want to help you when they see you struggling. Sometimes it’s a matter of working it out on your own, and if that’s your style, tell your colleagues. I usually say something like, “I just need a day to myself to work on this without interruptions. If you could count me out of meetings and take the lead on X for me, I will be able to get Y done.” Or if you’re the type that needs to talk things through, you could say, “I’ll need your help to brainstorm ideas tomorrow. Can you be available?”
Implement the 80% Rule
The 80% rule states: get a project to 80% and then you just stop without tinkering or perfecting. If you’re striving for perfection at each phase of development, you’ll easily get stuck in a sea of self-doubt. If you want to learn more about the 80% Rule, you can read about it here.
A big part of riding the emotional cycle is communicating with others around you which can be a huge change in your behavior. The next time you hear, “We need your creativity, NOW,” you can use some of these tips to manage your process and get the best work out of yourself.
These are just some of the ways I’ve been able to manage my own creative process when working to develop videos and online training programs. I hope sharing them will help you!
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