How to Deal with Creative Overwhelm

Back in November I wrote a newsletter about dealing with creative overwhelm and getting a handle on your "creative chimp" and it was so popular I've put it into a post.

1. Have a chat with yourself. 

When I have a creative overwhelm, I have to sit myself down and have a little chat with my brain, well not so much my brain. The creative chimp that sits on my shoulder (stay with me, I am not as nuts as I probably sound).  First of all, I have to remind myself that not every idea I come up with is a good idea and that I am better to execute one thing, really really well, rather than 100 projects half-arsed! This fact appeals greatly to my inner perfectionist; I am someone who has never been able to accept the phrase " done is better than perfect". The thought of that brings me out in a sweat. Anyway, what I am saying is sit yourself down and remind yourself that:

Everything that needs to get done will get done exactly when it needs to get done. 

2. Write a list.

Write a list of everything you want to do, every idea - no matter how big - write it down. Satisfy your creative chimp by listening to all of your ideas, no matter how crazy or how expensive or even, on reflection, how stupid it might be. I have a dedicated notebook for this where I write them all down. I also have a PDF print-out that I use to plan out my new ideas and see them through to the end! I call it my "Getting Sh*t Done" workflow. You can download your own here.

3. Don't make any rash decisions or spend any money!

When I am in a state of creative overwhelm, I am not alone; I have a little chimp on my shoulder who is constantly encouraging me to make drastic decisions which usually involve spending money! REBRAND he says, CHANGE YOUR COMPANY NAME he shouts, START A BRAND NEW COMPANY he screams into my head at 4 am and wakes me with a jolt. Until I started to grab my chimp by his ears and tell him to be quiet, I would listen to his constant wittering in my ear and action his ideas without a second thought, only to question what I had done when I was out of my state of overwhelm. 


Make a note of what you want to do and wait until your chimp has gone back into his tree for a well-deserved nap before you action anything. If your chimp prevents you from budgeting, hide the credit card! I'm not even kidding, this month my chimp almost had me spend £500 on new business cards!! I tend to find that when I am right at the height of my overwhelm (usually fuelled by caffeine and pick n’ mix), I won't listen to outside ideas. My chimp is so convinced he is right about everything that asking a third party for their opinion tends to work against us, so I wait until the chimp has gone to bed before I start running my ideas past other people.

4. Clear the decks

If I can, I clear my diary because any tasks that aren't fuelling my creativity will be completed with resentment and in a half-arsed (yes I love that word) fashion. This isn't always possible, so without sounding like a crazy person, I make a deal with the chimp.  "If I reconcile all these transactions, I'll take you to hobbycraft, and then we can spend three hours playing with glitter for Instagram photos". I find this reward method works very efficiently. 

5. Get up early and go to bed early. 

I am naturally a late to bed, late to rise person, but when I am in a state of creative overwhelm, my chimp likes to be up before dawn and is usually crashed out by 9 pm. I just go with the flow instead of fighting against it - try and do what it is that your chimp is most comfortable with, within reason - don't let him run your life! Coffee and sweeties fuel my chimp, but I do recommend trying to eat well in addition to whatever your chimp is craving as this will help you sustain your creative streak and not face burnout. 

6. Take these "episodes" seriously. 

Some of my best work has come from my creative chimp. I started my podcast during a highly creative time, I'd been considering it for ages and then just one day woke up, ordered a microphone, watched a youtube video on how to podcast using Garageband and the very next day I recorded my first episode. My longest sustained creative streak resulted in my e-course, closely followed by pneumonia because I didn’t look after myself! On the flipside of these spurts of creativity is my long-suffering with imposter syndrome. My chimp thinks I can run for parliament, but imposter syndrome thinks I am not worth space on the internet. Over the last few months, my imposter syndrome has become less and less and my creative streaks are much more productive - I have to thank affirmations, visualisations and a solid routine for this.


This article first appeared on November's The Edit, to join the mailing list - click here.