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Staying Creative in a Remote Work Environment

Many of today’s creative professionals are used to working in a space that is designed for maximum creativity: a comfortable setting, natural lighting, communal areas, and unique, personal touches all contribute to a space that keeps your creative mind not only active, but thriving. 

So what happens when, say, a global pandemic hits and you’re suddenly forced to work in a space that isn’t designed for your creative benefit?

Staying creative in a remote work environment isn’t easy. If your home is anything like mine, distractions abound—from the dishes I could be doing, to the Netflix I could be watching, to the neighbor’s dog barking at every hour of the day. But when working from home is a necessity, not a choice, you have to be deliberate about fostering your creativity. 

Here’s how to do just that.

Have a growth mindset.

Your thoughts are powerful. Your mindset—the way you think about something—changes how you feel and act. It can affect your performance, your attitude, and the way others perceive you.

But as powerful as your thoughts are, remember this: you are more powerful. You can have power over your thoughts. Which means that you can choose to have a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset.

As the pandemic has forced creatives out of their carefully designed workspaces and into their homes, I’ve heard many people complain that they “can’t” be creative outside of the creative spaces that they’re used to. To them, creativity doesn’t seem possible in a remote work environment. 

A fixed mindset, as defined by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, is the belief that certain qualities in a person can’t be changed. If you’re intelligent, you’re intelligent; if you’re not, you’re not. You’re either good with numbers or not, a strong runner or not, a good parent or not. 

A person with a fixed mindset probably thinks that creativity is inaccessible to them outside of the creative environment that they’re used to. They need the lighting, the colors, the ambiance. Like Dumbo and his feather, they can’t fly without it. 

A growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses not on inherent, unchanging qualities, but on effort. A growth mindset allows for change, improvement, and yes, growth. It doesn’t limit you based on your natural abilities. When you have a growth mindset about your creativity, you can choose to believe that you can be creative anywhere—from the office to your home and everywhere in between. You can fly, feather or no feather. 

How to have a growth mindset

Developing and maintaining a growth mindset is tough, and it can feel a little overwhelming if you’re not used to it. But there are some things you can do to help yourself make the shift.

Fail forward.

Failure shouldn’t be something that instigates shame and self-loathing. Learn to see failure as a step forward, as movement in the right direction. If you can do this, you’ll realize that the effort and determination to keep going are what really counts, not unmetered success at everything you try.

Use the Egg framework.

The Egg is a framework that helps you move from a place of fear to a place of happiness and creativity. By moving through the stages of the Egg (Hope, Belief, Action, Purpose, and Happiness), you can discover how to build self-awareness and self-confidence, take action steps toward your goals, and live with greater purpose and meaning. 

The Egg allows you to see growth and progress at every stage, encouraging a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. 

Turn the challenge into an opportunity.

Working from home is a challenge. Learning to live with the hardship and uncertainty of a global pandemic is a challenge. But what if, instead of surrendering to the idea that something is going to be hard or make you miserable, you shifted your thinking to see opportunities instead?

What opportunities could arise from moving to a remote work environment? Maybe it’s the chance to finally create a creative space in your home. Maybe it’s the answer to your desire for more work-life balance. Look for the opportunities in this change, rather than seeing only the negative.

Create different spaces in your home for different kinds of thinking

In my home, I have a couple different work spaces. One is my digital work station, where I answer email, chat with coworkers, and do other digital work. The other is my desk, which I use for brainstorming, thinking, and sketching. I keep the two areas, and the tasks I use them for, completely separate. I don’t allow crossover.

Why is this useful? Because your brain is constantly receiving signals from your environment. When you dedicate a space to a certain kind of work, eventually, entering that space gets you into the mindset for that kind of work. Sitting at my desk sends a message to my brain that it’s time for ideas, which makes that work easier. 

When you’re trying to create these spaces in your home, consider the following:

  • What type of work do you need to get done regularly? Which of those types overlap with each other?
  • What equipment do you need access to in order to get that work done (computer, drawing surface, etc.)?
  • Where in your home are you least likely to be interrupted?
  • What spaces in your home help you feel productive? Which ones make you more relaxed?

When choosing your spaces, get creative! Back porches, large closets, and even showers are allowed. 

Dedicating spaces to certain tasks or types of thinking can help you get into a creative zone more easily. 

Set up your own structure and boundaries

When you go into an office, the structure is set up for you. Your manager might keep you on task. You eat lunch when everyone else eats lunch. Without distractions, it’s not usually too difficult to stay on task.

Of course, that structure doesn’t exist in a home environment, so you have to create it for yourself. 

Structure is important to productivity, even for creatives. When you structure your time, you’re better able to focus your efforts and apply your energy to the right places.

Some quick hacks that can help you add structure to your day include:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Use the pomodoro technique (25 minutes of work at a time, with short breaks in between, and a longer break after every 4th 25-minute block)
  • Use time blocking, which divides your day into large chunks of time, for greater focus
  • Create routines (e.g. morning and night routines) that help train your brain to get into a certain mindset

Boundaries are also important when working from home, especially if you’re sharing your space with family members or a roommate. Set reasonable boundaries around who can enter your creative spaces and when. You should also create boundaries between yourself and work; you’ll get burned out if you don’t allow yourself personal time. Examples of boundaries might include:

  • I’m unavailable when the door is closed.
  • I’ll be in meetings from 10-12 every day.
  • 5:00 is quitting time. I don’t check email or answer my phone after that.
  • I take an hour for lunch every day. 

Appreciate the good side of working from home

There are a lot of downsides to working from home, especially if you aren’t used to it. But there are also plenty of advantages, too. If you can do your best to see the positive side of working from home, you’ll be more likely to end up enjoying it (which, in turn, will feed your creativity).

Some of my favorite parts of working from home are:

  • I can decorate my creative spaces however I want.
  • There’s flexibility in my schedule.
  • I can grab a snack whenever I need one.
  • It’s easy to take a quick walk around the block. (Every time I get up and go for a walk, I come back with better ideas. Every time.)
  • I can control my environment (temperature, clothing, lighting, etc.). 

Bottom line: mind over matter

What all these things boil down to is this: staying creative in a remote work environment is all about mind over matter. If you can maintain a growth mindset, create creative spaces in your home, define a workable schedule and clear boundaries, and recognize the upside of working from home, you can do some of your best creative work—no matter where you are. 

Get creative, with Design.org.

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