25 Ways to recharge creativity + motivation + combat feeling overwhelmed

“How do you do all of that stuff?” This is a question I get asked often by people who know me, as well as by people I meet who find out I’m juggling two businesses, a blog, writing a book, freelancing and a home life. My standard response has always been, “I don’t know, I just do.”

I just do what needs to be done and then move on to the next task or project. I’d never spent much time thinking about how I got things done, until recently.

Last month Delilah and I made one of the best decisions for our business and one that was long overdue, we hired a business consultant, Kari Chapin. (Kari has been a speaker at Craftcation and is the best-selling author of The Handmade Marketplace and Grow Your Handmade Business). Hiring Kari seemed like a no-brainer, she is amazing! But it also required some serious penny-pinching as well as schedule adjusting. Even though we’re only halfway through it, I know it’s totally worth it. Having an independent outsider who knows our industry go through every aspect of our business with a fine tooth comb has opened my eyes to things I couldn’t see since I was too close to the situation.

One of the most important things I’ve learned so far in my sessions with Kari is how detrimental not making time for business development and planning is to the sustainability of our business. I’m used to having so many things to do that the idea of asking how, why, what, who and where didn’t seem possible. Sadly, I feel like not taking the time to figure out how and where I get my best work done, why I do what I do, what needs to done (now, next week, in a month in a year etc…) and who is the best person for the job has been detrimental to the growth of our business.

I’m a die-hard list-maker so when before our first session, Kari sent over a custom workbook full of questions for us to answer, I dove right in. I won’t give away all Kari’s secrets to growing a sustainable business here, but I will say that just filling out the workbook was enlightening. When our first session was over, my brain was swelling with information and possibility, in an awesome but overwhelming way.

I felt my heart begin to race as the panic of too much stuff to do rose inside me. 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 wasn’t hungover 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, put my hands together 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. Most of you likely don’t know that before Delilah was my powerhouse business partner and the other half of Craftcation and Patchwork, she was a triathlete. We’d recently spent some time in Palm Springs for her bachelorette party and she’d taught me how to do the butterfly stroke (or at least my uncoordinated version of it). I did my best 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 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 when I felt overwhelmed or needed some inspiration, focus or drive. In true Nicole fashion, I made a list. Here’s my list of my top 25 things I do when I need to recharge my creativity, get motivated or combat overwhelm. By now, we all know that glorifying busyness is overrated and creative thought requires downtime. So, write each of these things on a slip of paper and next time you’re feeling blah or ahhh!!!! pull one of the box and do it! Better yet, write your own list for what works best for you and toss those into the hat.

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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. Taking a class in person is awesome too but not always possible depending on where you live.

For online classes: Creativelive, Creativebug, A Beautiful Mess and Craftsy.

For in person classes: Makeshift Society (Brooklyn and San Francisco), Creative Outlet Studios and The Makery (Orange County), Sew LA (Los Angeles), Workshop SF (San Francisco) and StitchCraft and Inspired Barn (Petaluma)

4. make something

Making something with my hands always gets my out of my funk and into a spot where I feel creative and ready to get stuff done. You don’t have to create something complex to reap the benefits. Check out our DIY project tutorials for inspiration.

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. If you’re a regular at Dear Handmade Life, you know about our monthly book club where we profile DIY, business and inspirational titles. 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. For businessey books check out our book club.

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. I’m obsessed with Evernote and love how it lets you create notebooks for your notes, which add an extra layer of cataloging that ocd folks like me can get on board with.

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

I don’t have any kids but when I’m around my the children of my friends and actually sit down and spend some time playing with them, 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 design or illustration – I put on a romantic comedy 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 about 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 between the clerk and customer or being lucky enough to sit on a stool next to someone who generously shares their trials and tribulations at a bar.

18. get out of town

I’ve written before about the benefits of taking a break and letting go of busyness to increase creative productivity. 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, my chickens 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 goals 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 for not getting a huge project done in one sitting.

21. meditate

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. Doing nothing (ie: 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 pretty much anything else that plagues a lot of us. 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 catchery connotations of vision boards. However, I recently made my very first vision board and it was awesome! It’s a great way for creative people (who tend to be more visual) to tap into their subconscious desires and create a wishlist for their lives.

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 you 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.

-nicole s.

What are the things you do to recharge your creativity, get motivated or combat overwhelm?


  1. You are awesome, Nicole! Like the girlfriend I didn’t know I had. An inspiring, talented writer as well!

  2. Thanks for this energetic article! Now I know we’re definitely on the same page. You’re all doing such a great job!

  3. The way i combat overwhelm is to be outside in nature – we live in New England, so it’s the forest. And also, taking a yoga or pilates class at my local gym.

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