It happens to everyone – that dreaded mental shutdown. You go to write, draw, design or build and suddenly your brain has decided to betray you by filling itself with cotton balls. Thanks, brain.  Sometimes a quick stretch is enough to get you back on track, but usually, waking your brain up feels like the mental equivalent of attempting to escape warm bedsheets in January. The creative block is a formidable foe. You will never vanquish it for good, and it will always come back to ruin your productivity at the least convenient moment. Thankfully, there are ways to keep creative block at bay and power through the cotton balls.

Inspiration and focus are the tools that a creative mind needs to complete a project. When one of those tools is missing, coming up with that “big idea” can be frustrating and seemingly impossible.

If you’ve lost your Inspiration:

Creativity comes from the brain, but it also comes from the little things that you observe in the world. Even the most imaginative mind can’t pull inspiration from thin air. If you find yourself staring at a blinking cursor on a white screen, trying to figure out why nothing seems to be coming to you, you’ve probably run your inspiration dry and need to go refuel. Your brain is like a Pinterest board. The more you browse and save pins, the more you can reference later when you’re feeling uninspired.

Once a mental block hits, it’s difficult to force yourself to be inspired, even if you take the time get up and go for a walk. Plan ahead. Live every day like a crushing blow to your genius is right around the corner and keep your brain full of memories and experiences. Take pictures, write in a notebook or collect small tokens from events that you’ve enjoyed. For example, do take a playbill from a show that inspired you. Don’t take the lead singer from a concert that you loved. It is very difficult to be inspired from a jail cell.

When it’s too late, creative block is crushing your creative juices and the Pinterest board in your brain is not helping, there are still things that you can do to get back on track.

  • Get away from your office space.
  • Take a quick walk.
  • Read a short story.
  • Stretch out on a bench and stare at the sky.
  • Have a conversation with someone you encounter.
  • Go to a thrift store and take time to feel the different fabrics and materials of the clothes.
  • Throw paint at a large sheet of butcher paper.
  • Paint your hand.
  • Paint your coworker.
  • Learn how to tie a bow tie.

Try to do something you have never done before. If you give yourself a new perspective on life, you are much more likely to happen upon an original idea.

If you’ve lost your focus:

The problem and beauty that comes with having a creative brain is that your mind has been gifted with the ability to wander. The good news is that you can probably sit still and have your imagination keep you busy for hours. The bad news is that your imagination might be more interesting than the project you’re staring at. There are even some cases where the task at hand is exciting and you can’t wait to dive in, but your brain has suddenly developed an interest in learning how to make the perfect quiche.

The project: Come up with a brilliant, sparkly logo for a waterpark on Mars

The brain: Woah… I bet adding ham to a quiche would really raise the bar

The brain is especially creative at all the wrong moments, so jot down your thoughts when inspiration strikes. You can revisit those thoughts later, when you’ve entered a quiche cook off. You’ll be glad you stored away that inspiration when you’re winning the blue ribbon.

So how do you maintain your focus?

  • Keeping two notebooks with you at all times can help your brain stay organized. Write your project details in one notebook and keep a separate notebook for random thoughts, doodles and any inspiration not related to the task at hand.
  • Listen to the instrumental soundtrack from your favorite movie while you work. This will keep you energized without distracting you with words.
  • If you can’t settle down, drink herbal tea. If you’re feeling sluggish, drink green tea or coffee.
  • Pin up any scrap of inspiration you have for your project on the wall that you are facing.
  • Keep your phone and computer on silent. Hearing the constant ping of a text or email will distract you and give your brain room to wander. Check your phone every 15 minutes and your email every hour or two.
  • Stay comfortable. Dress in layers so that you can remove pieces if you get too hot.

A creative mind is a wonderful talent and gift. Creative minds have produced stunning art, architecture, literature and the brands that we see advertised every day. If you spend each week continuously pushing for the next big idea, you are bound to have the occasional run in with a creative block. Don’t fret! Arm yourself with inspiration, give yourself room to focus, and you’ll be on to your next big idea before you know it.