3 ways to stay creative when your energy slumps

Clients, deadlines and admin draining your spirit? Pete Sena suggests how to get back on top.

Pete Sena

As silly as it might sound, I have a small post-it note that says, 'Have fun, Be curious, Stay passionate'. (I should really make inspirational posters with that tagline and sell them). And perhaps I should add 'Kill your darlings' to it.

Excelling in any creative role requires the ability to fall in love with your best ideas... and then let them go. No matter how spectacular the ideas are, many of them will die. Some of them a slower, more painful death than others.

Clients, deadlines, and red tape have been known to kill your spirit, leaving you stricken with creative block and 'idea fatigue'. I fight back by applying both left and right brain thinking.


Over the years, I've studied, collected, curated, ideated, and mashed up left and right brain creative techniques that work for me. My 'A Scientific Look At The Creative Process' is a five-step methodology I use for creative problem solving. It provides a structure for creative ignition that keeps the spirits up and the ideas flowing.

Beyond my 'Have fun, Be curious, Stay passionate' mantra and my five-step methodology, I implement a host of tools to keep me creative and keep me on track. Here are my top three, obvious as some may be.

01. Harness the power of music

Music gives us energy and fires up our brain to think creatively

Whether I'm creating an empathy map of a consumer's journey or designing a strategy for one of our clients, zone-in music is one my biggest creative tools. In an article by Amy Fries, music is described as a "rocket launcher of creativity". Top music therapist Andrew Littlefield says our brains are hardwired for music, which cognitively drives our ability to think abstractly. I couldn't agree more. Music gets my brain firing on all its creative cylinders.

Studies into whether music boosts productivity have been inconclusive. The corporate search for the music Holy Grail to be pumped into the office has failed, and rightfully so. We're not bacteria under a grow light, we're human beings with individual tastes. I use Spotify, Songza, and Pandora to listen to the music I like, and I encourage my team to do the same.

Many offices are opposed to employees rocking earbuds. I certainly don't want an employee plugged into her iPhone during a meeting, but music is important to people. It's a tool that just needs to be used responsibly. A recent SOL REPUBLIC study found 62 per cent of Americans view a day without music as worse than one lacking human interaction and 48 per cent of Millennials already use headphones at work every day. I say embrace it and impose discipline on it.

02. Focus on the task at hand

Use an app like Momentum to focus your energies

Creativity may involve the abstract, but it's still critical to stay focused on and disciplined. Nothing kills creativity and grinds work to a halt faster than one too many clicks on your browser or getting sucked into the 'social media stream drain'. A Salary.com study found 64 per cent of all employees visit non-work related websites during each work day, while 73 per cent of Millennials waste time online every day.

The study found the number one reason for e-slacking is boredom. My employees are excited about what we do, so boredom isn't usually the culprit. Even still, the wanton sirens of the Internet are always trying to lull employees from productive work. I'm a big fan of Momentum. The Google app replaces new tab pages with a personal dashboard that includes an inspirational photo, a motivating quote, current weather conditions, and a daily to do list.

03. Celebrate small wins

The occasional healthy snack can boost energy and mood

At Digital Surgeons we take on big projects for serious clients. To avoid the anxiety of 'The Massive To-Do List', we break things down into smaller 'sprints' and mini to-do lists. Taking a page from the Agile manifesto, we seek to maintain a constant 'innovation workflow' by focusing on what we need to do today to move us forward tomorrow. These sprints allow us to think big, test often, and fail quickly.

In his seminal essay, 'Small Wins', psychologist Karl Weick describes small wins as "consistently and frequently doing the easy stuff" and "stable building blocks" that get you to the big win. Incremental goal setting allows us to reward our employees for working hard every day. So, we end up playing as hard as we work.

Creativity thrives in a culture where everyone can be creative. As a digital-first creative agency, we recognize the importance of analog as a creative catalyst and we're literally tapped into everything that can infuse creativity. We provide our staff with breakfast each morning, including healthy snacks like Organic Yogurt and NuGo real dark chocolate bars.

For the times when creative burnout is imminent, leave! At Digital Surgeons all our employees receive a complimentary membership to Crossfit (conveniently located within our building), idea-painted rooms, couches and multiple collaboration stations, and a creative loft filled with branded DS notebooks ensure ideas can come from everywhere and aren't bound by digital mediums like a laptops and iPads. Sometimes the pen is mightier than the digital sword and is all you need to make ideas happen.

Words: Pete Sena

Pete Sena is the founder of Digital Surgeons, a digital marketing agency in New Haven, CT. A hybrid designer/developer who lives to create unique and powerful experiences for brands, if Pete ever takes a break he's probably reading, teaching himself something, attacking Crossfit or snowboarding.