How to cultivate creativity while in lockdown: techniques to feel creative when every day feels like a repeat

by Leo Raymaekers [8 min read]

COVID-19 has changed our lives and chances are that we will have to stay at home for at least a little while longer. 

In a time when we are forced to stay inside to battle this virus, it can be difficult to stay creative, especially as a designer when your job requires you to come up with new and interesting ideas on a regular basis. We have all been there at some point in time; you are sitting behind your computer all day, maybe in the same limited square meter space, and you have the feeling that all your creativity and inspiration is gone. Everyone has different methods to cope with this new reality. Even if you are in a stimulating environment, it is normal to have some trouble with being creative due to all kinds of reasons. In this article, you will find some tips on how to cultivate creativity specifically while in lockdown. Although my perspective is as a designer aiming to stimulate creativity in my day-to-day job, these tips are applicable for any profession, for anyone who might feel a bit stuck from time to time. 

Change your setting

The first tip that I want to share is about finding inspiration in a new setting that can help you shift to another perspective, another point of view. It can be difficult to come up with creative out-of-the-box ideas when you’re stuck inside your own brain, and the same physical space at the same time.

What helps me the most when I’m stuck and have the feeling that I’m cracking my brain around the same subject over and over, is to go outside. Go for a walk in your neighbourhood, leave your cell phone and headphones for once, and look around at all the things that are happening. You will find yourself amazed by tiny details you may not have noticed before and these new stimuli can perhaps even spark something for you. Most of the time, you will find a creative solution when you’re doing something completely unrelated, taking your mind off work or other things that trouble you. Going outside is the perfect little escape for me. 

Not everybody is a nature lover, although COVID-19 seems to prove me wrong as everybody is suddenly going on hikes and long walks. If by chance that doesn’t do the trick for you, try to look for new inspiration somewhere else. Instead of going out, you can also indulge yourself in the things that you love, activities that spark joy. It can be anything. If you appreciate art, go to a museum or a gallery. Read a new book, scroll platforms like Behance, Pinterest, Dribbble, Skillshare … the options are endless, you only have the find the ones that inspire you.

Work together

The best ideas are not the ones that you invent on your own. If you were working at the office, this may seem like a distant memory by now, but there were probably moments in front of the coffee machine or during a break where you would ask a colleague ‘What do you think about this…?”. This question possibly started a whole conversation that afterwards left you feeling inspired and ready to tackle your work and elaborate on your ideas. In this digital environment, those informal breaks aren’t happening as often as before or at least not in the same way. However, you can still ask a colleague or someone else to give feedback or brainstorm together. Being able to interact with someone and build further upon an existing idea can help a lot. For me, having someone that challenges my way of thinking and brings in a fresh perspective can be a game-changer and boost my creativity. You can start by planning smaller feedback sessions. If this works for you, you may want to start working, virtually, together and plan some longer working sessions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the same project, you can all work on your own projects at the same time but offering a collaborative review or feedback at set times. Working like this make it easier to ask questions and cause positive and creative cross-pollination between colleagues and in projects.

Make your home working space your own

Working from home has its own challenges ranging from sharing your desk, or at least what you use as a desk, to sharing space with your partner to poorly timed visits from your hairy little friend or the ringing of the bell with yet another package. I am very fortunate to have a dedicated place for my home office, but I realise that not everybody is lucky enough to have a home office of their own. If you can, try to find a place where you can work, almost, undisturbed and decorate this place to your own taste. Having a dedicated space for work separated from the rest of your home can give you a certain peace of mind and makes it easier to concentrate. It is, of course, a very personal subject; your perfect home office can be completely different to the one someone else is dreaming of. Taking the time to create your own space can boost creativity and helps to keep you motivated during the day. I decorated my office with some small plants and have notebooks and pens nearby for when I feel like scribbling down my thoughts or for yet another to-do list. Creating a dedicated workspace for yourself is also related to being able to experience a ‘flow state’.  When you’re working undisturbed and are focused on a task that is challenging on one hand but doable on the other, you can possibly experience ‘flow’. If you want to read further into this, there are multiple articles written about flow on the internet such as this one from Headspace and another one from Jari Roomer.

Throw in a workout (or a little bit of movement)

How long have you been sitting in your chair already today? Chances are, if you’re like me, then it’s already been a few hours without even standing up. A little workout or even a stretching break is not only good to improve your health, but it’ll also get your creative juices flowing. It doesn’t have to be a proper, sweaty one-hour workout, a quick 10-minute break is more than enough. Maybe you can make this a daily or weekly break with some of your colleagues? Being able to work from home also has some benefits, like not losing time commuting to work, so why not use this free time to do some exercise in the morning or evening? I try to go on a short bike ride every day through a green area nearby and partake in an occasional yoga session, with or without colleagues, which helps to break up the day. Another advantage of working out is its ability to diminish distractions. If your workout requires attention on certain movements, you will be focused on that. Although, if you go for another type of exercise like running or cycling, you don’t have to be concentrated and your mind can wander. Adding exercise to your daily routine will improve your wellbeing which in the end leads to more creativity. 

Get bored

Another tip is to allow yourself to get bored from time to time. This may seem like a strange tip to give in looking to boost your creativity and thus also your efficiency, however, if you give your mind time to wander, this is where it can also magically start to create. You can daydream about your next foreign adventure, your next restaurant visit, etc. Being bored is a meaningful experience, where you unconsciously try to find stimuli to feed your mind. We live in a time where we have access to an infinite stream of stimuli and by accessing this stream, we limit our moments of boredom. There’s been a lot of research around this topic and there are some refreshing TED talks as well if you’re interested to expand on the idea of allowing oneself to be bored, such as “The Benefits of Boredom” by Cindy Foley or one by Manoush Zomorodi on how boredom can lead to brilliant ideas (in Dutch).  

So, the next time you’re in line at the supermarket or killing time at home, resist the urge to fight boredom. Don’t pick up your phone or any other device, don’t start yet another Netflix show and allow yourself to be bored at this moment, as it may result in a brilliant new idea. You can consider boredom as an opportunity, as your mood, brain and work performance could even improve from what seems like an insignificant moment. 

You don’t have to be creative all the time

The last tip is maybe more of a general reminder: it’s no sin not to be creative all the time. Every creative will have some uninventive moments from time to time and that is completely normal. First of all, don’t pressure yourself. If you’re scared to start a task because you fear that you’re not creative enough, it can help to break it down into smaller chunks. You can cross these smaller tasks off your list and see the progress that you’ve made. This will help you to feel more motivated as you’ll feel that smaller tasks are much easier to tackle. Second, be patient with yourself when you’re experiencing a creative block. There could be many reasons why your creativity is at a lower level. Our lives have changed drastically over the past year. So, give yourself a break, you can only try your best. 

Even if COVID-19 is making it difficult for everyone to stay creative, we have to try and look on the bright side. Instead of viewing COVID as an obstacle to creativity, you could also see it as an opportunity. As a designer, you are able to design in an ever-changing world with needs that are changing more rapidly than ever before. Nevertheless, it can be challenging to stay creative if every day feels like a repeat. Luckily, there are a lot of tips in this article to try out. If you find what works best for you, try to implement it on a regular basis. Sooner or later, you’ll find back your creativity, one step at a time. In the spirit of sharing, if you have any other tips on boosting creativity, feel free to reach out!  

Amber De Decker 
Maryjoy Caballer (Unsplash)