Owning Your ‘Creative Zone’
Define, embrace, and control the distractions that come naturally with creative thinking
By Nick Azevedo
Let’s start with a confession — I get distracted at work. This is nothing short of typical for someone who spends most of their time bouncing back and forth between the content creation world and the market research rabbit hole.
My distractions typically start like this — I’m in the middle of creating content for a deck and I am on fire. I’m cranking out persona characteristics and social taglines left and right, scribbling on my office whiteboard like a mad person. I race back to my computer to translate the scribble from the whiteboard into a cohesive, marketing strategy for with this deck when…wait for it…I see an article on LinkedIn about how millennials complain too much at work. Now I’m not only distracted, but I’m hooked.
Wait, no! I can’t get distracted. Deadlines are coming and I must meet them. By now I’ve realized the magnitude of this quick-distraction-turned-tirade that I’ve embarked on, and I need to steer the ship back to course. It’s in these moments that I realize I’ve left my creative zone, and getting back into that zone requires mindfulness and, most importantly, practice.
Getting Back on Track
During any stage of the creative process, I find myself going in and out of my creative zone (the earlier story is nothing short of typical for this brain of mine). This type of mental lapse requires me to do a few different things: first realize that I’m distracted, and second figure out the best way to validate this distraction so that I can go back to my project distraction-free. If you’re like me and also find yourself in a similar situation, I’ve created a quick troubleshooting guide that will force your brain back into productive mode (until you see a cute dog photo on Instagram, that is).
1 – Relax
Relaxing is the most important of the three steps. Whenever I finally realize that I’m distracted it’s necessary to validate that feeling and understand that it’s not only natural to feel distracted, but we’re genetically predisposed to succumb to these distractions (not to mention how increasing technologies and social media can keep us distracted for longer…but that’s for a different blog post). I’m not talking about taking “five minute breaks,” I’m talking about full blown distractions that send you scrolling through your second cousins wedding photos on Facebook (wow they’ve only been dating for a year? Oh, shoot – distracted again! Focus!)
For this step to work, it’s extremely important to figure out a way to get grounded back into reality. Digitally unplugging for a minute works best for me. If I’m writing notes or going through comments from a client, I’ll answer them on a notepad or journal and not use my laptop for a minute or two. This validates my distraction (needing to physically look away from the screen for a minute) and allows me to recenter my concentration. When I return to my screen, I’m not only more aware of the task at hand but, most importantly, I’m more calm and relaxed than I was before my distraction.
Essentially, it’s best to embrace the distraction. Fighting it is the opposite of relaxing, and by doing so it will keep manifesting until you can refocus your energy towards regaining that creative edge. Which brings us to the next point…
2 – Concentrate
I’ve gotten rid of the urges that distract me and now I can put my full attention towards my project. But just because this project has my full physical attention doesn’t mean that I’m going to be able to give 100% of my mental attention. This requires a full dose of concentration – something that can’t be taught or understood in a singular blog post (nor is it a ‘one size fits all’ solution). However, I can summarize a strategy that I use to regain concentration. It’s surprisingly simple — I use music. A calming playlist can help me spend hours of time reading through case studies and marketing dossiers on a wide variety of topics, or a more energized and upbeat playlist can get me in a content creation mode.
It’s amazing how something that’s non-visual can help us concentrate on a visual task (for some, it’s physical – a fidget of some sort, or sensory – like essential oils, or auditory – like music). Whatever helps you concentrate the best – define it, understand it, and use it whenever necessary to get back into the creative zone.
3 – Reflect as you Go
This type of reflection is more of a call for continuous improvement and mindfulness. If I get too caught up in my thoughts and my reflections become diluted, I start the cycle over again by relaxing and using my concentration strategies to regain my creative flow. It’s important to find the triggers that cause distractions and reflect on why they derail our creative thinking process. Without that type of awareness, it’s really easy to slip back into the proverbial thought loop of distraction or clickhole articles like the one I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.
Owning your Creative Zone
Learning how to relax, concentrate, and reflect on the distractions that affect the creative mindset is crucial to the productivity of the day-to-day office life. But managing this mindset isn’t just for folks in a creative or design role. These steps can help marketers when they’re creating decks or reports for new projects, or project managers that are working on executive summaries for proposals. Even salespeople who are trying to develop new prospecting techniques and outbound email strategies. We all have our own ways of figuring out what tools and environments work best, but the steps we take for problem solving and ultimately reaching this creative zone is universal.
And if you don’t think that this is true, I invite you to think of it this way — you’ve been distracted by this blog for roughly six minutes…now it’s time to try those steps and get back into your creative zone!