Things I Do to get Unstuck

by Thomas Beutel

I get to be creative every day in both my work and play and for whatever reason I sometimes lose that creative energy and get stuck. Being creative over many hours can be difficult, so over the years I’ve learnt variety of methods to unstick myself.

Imagine starting

This one is very effective for starting a project. Instead of focusing on the whole project or the end result of a project, I focus just on starting. Often that will get me over the hump, especially if I’m in an uncreative procrastinating mood.


I find this one particularly effective at the beginning of large daunting project. For me large projects can be intimidating and lead to a deer-in-the-headlights type of procrastination. So I think about the project, make a short list of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-limited steps. The keys for me are specific and achievable.  The more specific a step is and the more achievable it is, the easier it is to start. Often this technique is a great substitute for the imagine starting method because creating the SMART list is starting.

Mind Maps

I use mind mapping specifically to invite my right brain in and shut down my inner editor. I start with a core word or phrase that represents the thing I’m trying to get unstuck at, and then I let all the ideas flow onto the map with lines, circles, lists, boxes, whatever. Nothing gets left out or edited. At the end of the process, I notice which things that I put down have the most juice for me. More often than not, it lets me proceed with whatever creative work I was trying to do. Mind maps also have this amazing ability to surface ideas that I did not know I have. Because the rule is to not leave anything out, I allow myself to explore things in a way that my left brain would not normally consider.

Pacing (as in walking up and down the hallway)

I think this one falls under the general idea that getting your body into a different state. Pacing, walking, taking a shower, etc. helps the brain unlock ideas or make associations that you wouldn’t if you just continue to sit and think about being stuck. I believe that the additional sights, sounds and sensations that you get from these activities allow your brain to open up.

Listen to Music

For some reason, I find listening to my favorite music very helpful. I do have a quirk though and that is that the music can’t have lyrics, or at least it can’t have words that I can understand. I listen to a lot of instrumental music – like the Piano Guys doing covers of pop songs, and Bollywood hits, which are great because I can’t understand a word.

Imagine High Fives

I use this one occasionally. I imagine running through a gathering of all my friends giving me high fives and encouraging me. It sounds a bit silly but it is actually quite uplifting. By the way, feel free to give me a high five when you see me.


This actually isn’t a specific method I use for getting unstuck, but I mention it here because it is part of my daily practice and I’m sure that it helps me stay creative. Many aspects of being stuck relate to being distracted or anxious and meditation helps me moderate and modulate those feelings.

Rubber Ducking

This one is somewhat specific to programming, but the idea is to try to explain being stuck to a rubber duck or other toy (mine is a hedgehog plushy). The act of explaining will forces me to get into some detail to explain my project, my code or whatever I’m stuck on, and the details will often reveal the solution.

Work on a different project

Many creative problems that I encounter just need to gestate on their own. Working on a different project allows my mind to use different circuits, and lets the other neurons relax or work in the background.

Taking a break

This is a simple one. I take a break and don’t work on anything. Maybe I watch ACT III of Star Wars or Rogue One. Or I watch a fishing video on Youtube. I peruse eBay. Yes, this gets dangerously close to true procrastination, but sometimes it’s the only thing that will help.

Sleep on it

This is really a longer term variation of taking a break, particularly if it is later in the day.  I find that starting again the next day allows me to apply a fresh look and so often the fresh look is so much simpler and elegant than any thought that I had the day before.

Let me know what techniques you use to get unstuck in your creative work.