One of the deadliest obstacles a freelancer will face in their career time and time again is the creativity killer: an event or situation that results in the freelancer losing their creativity, productivity, and the odd panic attack or two. Here are six of the most common creativity killers… and tips on how to defend against them.
Sometimes freelancers feel as though the only way they can get everything done is to multi-task… but what many don’t know is that multi-tasking is the most inefficient way of working. It kills creativity, decimates focus, causes you to take longer completing items and generates output that is lower in quality.
But it’s easy to fix this problem — as easy as making a commitment to yourself to create a focus-oriented workspace and tackle only one problem at a time. You’ll whack out one task after another, instead of dawdling for hours on a few at once.
2. Letting your inner critic into the creative process
Almost a psychological equivalent to multi-tasking, many creatives are in the bad habit of performing two parts of the creative process simultaneously: creating and criticizing, evaluating or editing their work as it is being born. The problem is that creating and evaluating are two entirely different mindsets, and doing both at once ensures you’re not firmly in one zone or the other but sitting in a medium zone of mediocrity.
The fix is simple, but by no means easy — like meditation. You need to silence that editorial voice in your head and focus on creating work that you can refine later. Let your creative side take over and create as it pleases. Fine-tune it later on — once you’ve finished creating, or in another session when you’ve given your mind time to shift gears.
3. Distracting environments
Working with your children running around your feet, or in a home office when you live around the corner from a hospital with ambulance sirens blaring at all hours is never good for creativity. It’s not your multi-tasking habit that’s creating distractions in this case, but external distractions — which are much harder to control.
Spend the money on daycare for the kids or find a co-working location to get away from a bad locale — both mean additional expenses, but chances are you’ll recoup them with enhanced productivity. Set up a dedicated working environment in your home and only spend time in there working so those you live with learn that if you are in that space, there is no doubt about whether you’re to be interrupted.
4. Unstable finances
If you’re worried about your finances — will your next payment come in on time to pay the rent, or will you be working from your laptop on the street? — this can easily be a distraction from productive work, and the feeling of despair that it brings, and that every freelancer knows so well, will easily kill your creativity.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many easy fixes for this creativity killer. You can remind yourself that your anxiety is only stopping you from doing more work to pay the next month’s bills and hope that kicks you out of the funk.
Longer-term, make a savings plan and stick to it. As just about any financial planner will tell you, you might thing you’re too strapped to save anything after bills but you’ll surely find a few dollars you’re spending on unnecessary expenses like take-out, Starbucks and movie rentals to start a savings account. It might grow slowly at first, but every day you add to it you’re a little more secure.
5. Impending deadlines
Pressure and deadlines can be a motivating factor. Many people thrive on them. I know journalists who chose the profession almost entirely because they work best under that sort of intense pressure. But when the deadlines pile up and there’s more to do than you can humanly do in time — even with the adrenaline rush — your panic is likely to send you into a creativity and productivity drought.
The most common advice is, of course, to plan better. But if you’re in this situation it is already too late for that, and the only real next step is to call or email your clients and tell them that you’re going to miss the deadline, letting them know how much extra time you believe will be needed. You might lose a client, but usually this worst-case scenario will get you out of trouble once.
6. Fear of failure
The King Kong of creativity killers is a fear of failure. Ever taken on a job that seemed to challenging for you to get right? Perhaps it was just too wide in scope, or you’d overreached in terms of the skill needed to pull it off.
Most commonly, though, a freelancer’s fear of failure is not born out of lack of ability but out of insecurity. It is the projects that provoke these fears that are usually the biggest opportunities for professional growth, allowing you to expand and improve your skills and gain more confidence knowing that you can pull off the tough projects.
The best solution in this case is to accept the project will probably be hard, and commit to getting it done and getting it done right. You might have to get autodidactic, pull in subcontractors, and stay up all night for a week… but you’ll come out the other side better for it.