How to Stay Creative When Every Day Is Groundhog Day

Keeping the spark alive, almost a year later
Quarantine Day 1:

Got up early. Kids off to school. Quick shower. Zoom call. Nice to be able to start working, then jump off to put on some laundry. And I can hear the birds outside! So productive. Exciting!!

It doesn't really matter if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today and spring is delayed for a couple of weeks. Winter, summer or spring, they're all pretty much the same now. Because every day is the same now. And for an industry that exists to create new things—and for the people tasked with creating those things—that monotony can be a problem.

Quarantine Day 50

Hanging in there. Low on toilet paper. Zoom calls blending together into one. Tried to mute my child earlier. Turns out you can't do that in real life. But I think if we pull together we can make it!

Granted, not everything is the same. Industry models are changing. The way brands choose agencies is changing. The way we produce work is changing. How we stay productive as individuals is changing. It's just that the days are not changing. It's like someone put them all into a blender and made a really bad week-flavored milk shake. I don't want to taste that. I've seen it. It's beige.

Quarantine Day 150

The bear went over the mountain. The bear went over the mountain. The bear went over the mountaiiiiin. And what do you think he saw? He saw another mountain. He saw another mountain. It's 4 p.m. I should probably do some work.

It feels to me like quarantine just exposes the fault lines even more. If you procrastinated before, then you're going to really procrastinate now. If your company is bad at keeping everyone in the loop, then that's going to snowball very quickly in quarantine. If nothing else, when things do get back to normal, we'll have learned a lot about our structures and ourselves.

Quarantine Day 220

Same clothes as yesterday. Stupid birds outside never shut up. Kids are on TikTok. Is that a remote school class now? I can't remember. 

There are ways to break the monotony of sitting alone at a screen, trying to be original. I thought about having everyone in the agency give their own small TED Talks to the rest of the gang. They'd share something they're passionate about. We'd all learn something. But then I'd have to shave. And create a presentation. We did try a "quarantini" get-together. I found an olive at the back of the fridge. It may have been the only vegetable I ate that week.

Some agencies (Something Different among them) are lucky enough to be producing new work. Shooting campaigns, even. And with the protocols that are in place, it has even felt safe. But working remotely is no substitute for being there. The nuances are lost. Casting, for example, is about feeling a character, seeing people's timing, and that gets lost. Same with the acting performances on shoot day. It's just not the same. The craft suffers.

Quarantine Day 360

I now snack at hourly intervals. My desk looks like a paper recycling facility. I am losing my eyesight. When I next see a real person, what is the right thing to do? I forget.

So how to stay creative in the midst of everything? Initially, at least, restrictions proved to be a catalyst for creativity. Forced out of our comfort zones, we had to shed the baggage of our experience to look at the new realities of our world. But as time goes on, I'm reminded of those "How to keep the spark alive in a relationship" books. They're full of tactics to use to get you out of a rut. We could learn from those. Communicate. Take the time to check in with each other. Plan weekly dates. Maintain separate interests.

In this context, I think that means don't try to be creative alone. Stay in touch with people. You want your neurons to spark in new ways. And take some time out to try something that doesn't involve your chair and your screen. Also, get in line for vaccines. (As an aside, those guys managed to be very creative, very quickly. Maybe we should ask them how they did it?)

Happy Groundhog Day.

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Richard Ryan
Richard Ryan is creative director at Something Different.

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