Creativity: What To Do When the To-dos Take Over

To Do list pixabay

The internet is full of info on how to stoke your creativity and get over writer’s block. But what if life is your block? One of my friends shared an article recently about how our busy lives are stifling creativity. I agree.

There’s the daily grind busy-ness, then there’s the soul-sucking kind of busy-ness that makes you feel like the crusty leftovers on the casserole dish at the end of the day.

We move every two to three years. Each move has its challenges, but the moves back to the States are the hardest because we’re on our own for almost everything.

We just finished one of those moves. During all the house hunting, paperwork, and pre-packing, my brain was so mired in minutiae that the to-dos just took over and exiled my creativity to a deep, dark place. Nothing I tried could coax it out.

dark place pixabay

I finally had to give myself permission to do what I could do instead of beating myself up for what I couldn’t do. Such as:


I focused my writing time on revising. Coming up with something new just wasn’t working, so I looked to the stories I’d already written and started revising. I was able to pull myself, mostly productively, through that time. If you can’t find anything new to write, then review and revise what you’ve already created. It’s easier on a bogged-down brain and still gives you some foothold in creating.


Critiquing my critique partners’ stories helped me participate in a creative process even if it wasn’t my own. If you’re in a spot where you don’t have your own work to share, try to stay involved in your critique groups anyway.


Take time, even five minutes, to read something you enjoy—an inspiring quote or a poem will do. A word will sometimes do the trick. Some time ago a friend posted a word she’d heard—‘flense,’ which means to ‘strip skin or fat from a carcass.’ In it’s literal sense, it’s grotesque, but in a poetic sense, it packs a punch. You can subscribe to receive a new word of the day at various sites, including:

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Doodle when you’re sitting in the DMV, waiting on hold, or grading papers (turn that ‘A’ into a rocket ship). Doodling unlocks your brain and boosts creativity. Even little creative burst will help keep the pilot light on.

Finding Poetry/Art in the Mundane

Our previous house had tiles in the showers that had beige swirls on a white background. There’s not much else you can do in a shower but shower, so to give myself a break from all I had to do, I’d search the swirls for images. I found ogres, unicorns, and lots of faces in that tile. It relaxed my brain and allowed for even a few moments of creativity.

soap suds.jpg

It sounds ridiculous, but look for art in the soap suds, a sidewalk crack, a pile of unmatched socks. Letting the brain relax in such ‘mindless’ ways sparks creativity.

Likewise, poetry is all around us—music on the radio, the whir of traffic, or the sounds of nature (such as this gem making the social media circuit).

Focusing on a sound, an element, surrendering to something outside your own mind, will help you maintain some creative sanity.


I have a dog, so walking has to be part of my day whether I think I have time for it or not. Walking has always been a creative boost for me, and science has explained why.

When I did reader’s theaters in college, my best ideas for scenes came from my walks to and from campus. The path to and from my children’s school in No. Virginia took us through a wooded park.

I remember a cloudy morning when a flock of birds buck-shot from the trees as we neared. They somehow congealed into an orderly arrow and swooped–cawing–up and over the tree line. They whipped like a witches cape over our heads, and the silence they left behind gave me an idea.

So make walking part of your to-do list. Park farther away from your office if you have to, or leave the car behind when your destination is just a few miles away. Be present in the motion of your body’s rhythm.


Anything you can do to help your brain relax, during those exceptionally stressful times, will make it that much easier to find your creativity when your to-dos are done.

Please feel free to share techniques that have helped you maintain a creative hold during a stressful time.

Other resources:







5 thoughts on “Creativity: What To Do When the To-dos Take Over

  1. Johnnell, even though moving is disruptive, I love the chance to declutter!!! And there are always new ideas to explore, though not always the time. I think the walk is essential. Here’s to a smooth transition and new and productive writing routines.


  2. Moving is one of the more stressful things to undergo, and you do it every few years… Pat-on-the-back from me. Your to-do list resembles mine (replace walk-the-dog with clean-the-litterbox) and finding a place on the list to insert “write an original story” takes determination. I remind myself that it’s a gift I must give myself so I may be able to give of myself doing the rest on the to-do-things.


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