You know that feeling when your TO-DO list seems better suited to being written on an extra long roll of paper towels than on a Post-it? It seems like for every thing you cross off, a new thing (or two or three) appears. Even for those of us (ahem… me) who are serious planners and delegators, if you’re juggling running your creative business with your personal life, that feeling of overwhelm is likely familiar.
Last week, that old panic of too much on my plate set in. Rather than let it debilitate me, I closed my computer. I was out of town and happened to be spending the weekend at a house with a pool. I thought about what an Ex of mine said about the best way to cure a hangover, swimming in a body of water. I left hangovers behind a few years ago but I needed to get out of my head in the same way I did after a night of too much wine. I put on my bathing suit, stood on the edge of the pool, looked down into the water and then I jumped.
There are few things as magnificent as diving in and breaking through the surface of a body of water. I swam a few laps. I did my best make-shift butterfly stroke across the length of the pool until I was out of breath. While I was swimming I started feeling better and more focused.
When I got out of the pool, I thought about how many times diving into a body of water has helped clear my mind. Then I started thinking of other things I did when I felt overwhelmed or needed some inspiration, focus or drive. In true Nicole fashion (remember, I said I was a serious planner!), I made a list.
Are you ready to dive into my top 25 things that I do when I need to recharge my creativity, get motivated or combat overwhelm?
Pro Tip: Write each of these things on a slip of paper and next time you’re feeling blah or ahhh!!!! pull one of these from the box (feel free to add your own) and do it!
1. dive into a body of water
This is a great one for getting back into your body and out of your head. If a pool, lake, river or ocean is out of the question – then take a bath.
2. take a walk
Walking around my neighborhood is one of my daily rituals. I try not to talk on the phone while I’m doing it – walking in silence or with music helps me be present in the moment. Sometimes I turn my walks into creative projects and set goals, like taking one photo a day of something interesting.
3. learn something
There are so many great resources for taking online classes now. Learning how to do something new is the perfect way to take your mind off the problem at hand and come back to it with a new perspective. Check out our online learning program.
5. take a drive
When I first got my driver’s license I would get in the car and drive with no destination. I loved exploring where I lived with no agenda. Then I moved to urban cities and driving became the bane of my existence as I fought through hours of traffic just to run a few simple errands. Driving with exploration as your only goal alters your perspective and you end up finding beauty and undiscovered spots in your own backyard.
6. read something inspirational
I love sitting down with a good book and being transported to a new setting or perspective. Here’s our curated list of 10 must-read books for creatives. Lately, I don’t have the time or patience for fiction but I always love a good short story and the Best American Short Stories collections are well-curated.
7. get a pep talk
There’s nothing like a good pep talk to get you back on track. Luckily I have a great support system of people who are always there when I need a bit of ‘oomph’. If you’re lacking in cheerleaders, reach out to your network and build your squad of fellow creatives so you can celebrate each others triumphs and cheer each other on.
8. plant something
My husband’s love of growing things in our garden has finally rubbed off on me. When he comes home with a car full of seeds and dirt I know it’s time to get my hands dirty. After just a few hours outside in our garden where we dig and imagine our future harvest I feel refreshed.
9. cook or bake something
Sometimes, I don’t feel crafty but I have the desire to create something. On days like that, I head into the kitchen with a recipe from one of our cookbooks or Pinterest and cook or bake something new. I love following recipes but also adding my own twist. Trying something new in the kitchen is one of my favorite ways to create a new headspace while also producing something delicious.
10. make a list of goals
I love having a lot of things to do but it can also be overwhelming. Organizing my tasks helps me let go of some things for a future date and prioritize the things that need to be done immediately.
11. make a list of past accomplishments
It’s pretty easy for me to get caught up in what I need to do/should be doing and focus on what isn’t done instead of what I have completed. I rarely spend time looking back and truly being appreciative and grateful for my accomplishments. Take ten minutes and jot down the things that you’re proud of as well as things you’ve checked of the to-do lists of the past.
12. write a letter
I rarely do this, but when I do, it always feels really great. There’s something so special about writing a note (especially a hand-written one) to someone whose work you admire, has been an inspiration or whom you love and appreciate.
13. ride a bike
Using a bike to run errands is one of the best ways to make otherwise boring tasks fun. Traveling faster than you would if you were walking and feeling the wind swoosh past you as you pedal is awesome, even if you don’t have a destination in mind.
14. hang out and play with a kid
When I’m hanging out with my son, I get lost in the moment and see how lovely and simple life can be when you’re not encumbered by all the adult responsibilities. Dressing up a Mr. Potato Head or speeding cars across a racetrack helps me let go of all of the stuff that seemed so important just a moment before.
15. have a ceremony
One of my favorite creative writing professors used to say, “It’s not about the tea, it’s about the tea ceremony”. She was talking about how the process of writing, the act of getting your thoughts and impressions on paper was sometimes more important than the end product-the story. I’ve created my own ceremony around my creativity. When I work on a design or illustration, I put on a romantic comedy that I’ve seen dozens of times and drink ice water, when I write – I head into the backyard with a glass of wine or a cocktail and put on classical music and when I’m working on something on super technical like Quickbooks or a spreadsheet I sit at the dining room table in and need complete silence.
16. listen to a good song on full blast
For some reason when my senses are overwhelmed, it helps to pick out one sense and isolate and overwhelm it. The easiest one is my sense of sound. If I’m feeling anxious about a project or life, I’ll put on the headphones and blast one of my go-to songs.
17. talk to a stranger
We’ve lived and retold our own stories so many times. Likely we’ve heard the tales from our loved ones more times than we can count as well. Hearing a stranger talk about their life is always fascinating and inspiring for me. I love taking notes of bits of overheard conversations in the check out line at the grocery store or being lucky enough to sit on a barstool next to someone who generously shares their trials and tribulations.
18. get out of town
Getting out of town for a few days can do wonders for not only a new perspective but for inciting new ideas as well.
19. work in a different place
See number #15. Some of the things I do require creativity, while some require intense technical concentration. I utilize every nook in my surroundings and have delegated certain spots as optimum places for specific types of work. When I work on something creative I like to be outside with the white noise of my neighbors fountain and the cars swooshing down my street. When I’m working on something technical, I like to be indoors with no outside noise or stimulation. Creating areas for certain tasks helps train my brain for that type of work since I always do it in that particular setting.
20. make one small change
Often times lack of creativity or motivation is a direct result of feeling overwhelmed. I have dozens of lists of things to do and this permeating feeling that unless I do every single one immediately I’m an utter failure! We all know we can only do one thing right at a time. If I make one small change towards a future goal, it helps not only accomplish that larger goal but I also get a sense of accomplishment when I complete one part of a big task instead of beating myself up for not getting a huge project done in one sitting.
This is by far the hardest one for me to bring into my daily routine as well as the most essential. I’ve been meditating off and on for twenty years but have never been able to make it part of my daily life for longer than a few months. Meditating for just ten minutes a day has been proven to help with a host of physical and mental issues like auto-immune diseases, stress, high blood pressure and more. A friend turned me onto a meditation app called Headspace. If, like me, you’re looking for help with accountability in regard to meditation, check it out!
22. make a vision board
I know, I know, a vision board…. I mean come on! We all know about The Secret and the dream catcheresque connotations of vision boards. However, they’re a great way for creative people (who tend to be more visual) to tap into their subconscious desires.
23. see some art
Sometimes going to a museum can add to my sense of ughghhh/look at this awesomeness/what am I doing with my life? But it can also be super inspiring. You don’t have to go to a museum or an art show. I’ve captured the same sense of realizing the breathtaking loveliness of what human beings are capable of when I’ve watched live music, eaten a great meal or attended a craft show.
24. play a game
One of my favorite ways to spend a day off is sitting in the backyard with a beer and BBQ smoke billowing over to the table where I’m siting with friends playing a game of Cards vs. Humanity, Rummikub, Boggle or gin rummy. It’s a great way to fully concentrate on/accomplish something that has nothing to do with work.
25. help someone
There’s something so lovely about getting outside yourself and your own problems and helping a friend or family member solve something they’ve been struggling with. It gets you out of your head and away from your own issues plus you get to see someone take a step towards making a positive change or decision.