7 ways to avoid getting bogged down when your project starts to feel like a marathon

It’s hard to stay creative throughout the day when there are so many demands on your time and energy. To avoid getting bogged down, especially when your project starts feeling like a marathon, try these approaches to re-energize and reignite creativity in your team.

1. Remind your team about the big picture

People like to know that their work matters. Work is meaningful when it connects to something bigger then the individual. Remind your team about what’s important and why their work makes a difference.

2. Redefine your project as a mission

Leadership expert Warren Bennis said, “great groups think they are on a mission from God… their clear, collective purpose makes everything they do seem meaningful and valuable.” Redefine your project as a mission you and your team can get excited about. Ask everyone on your team to tell a story about what the mission means to him or her. Discuss ways in which you can establish a direction to keep everyone focused on the finish line. Look for ways to create alignment with the goals of your organization, and connect purpose with passion.

3. Cultivate creativity

Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation, and author of Creativity Inc. says his job as a manager is to “create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it. Leading for creativity that has more to do with coaching and curating than with asserting control. Command and control style leadership squelches creativity. So does bureaucracy.

When Claudia Kotchka worked at P&G, she described herself as Chief Barrier Buster. She says, “Creativity is about how you set your team up for success. My job was not to have the answer, but to give my team whatever they needed to create the answer.” It was a shift from the way management is generally thought of–as a senior manager, it’s assumed that you must have the answer.

Set clear goals for your team, then give everyone the creative freedom to explore how they will achieve goals. Carve out dedicated time for creative thinking, and provide your team with the resources they need to get the job done by continually providing them with learning opportunities to enhance their creativity skill-sets.

4. Create rules of engagement with your team

Ask your team these questions and facilitate a candid discussion: How might we build psychological safety in our group so that we can take conceptual risks? How do we make time for creativity when faced with demands to execute? How might we re-design policies and procedures to allow for flexibility, adaptability and diversity?

5. Tell it like it is

Catmull has said that he believes that “Candour is the secret weapon to great results.” Encourage a free flow of ideas and opinions by addressing setbacks quickly to minimize their negative impact, and using them as an opportunity to learn and grow. Air grievances before they fester to maintain a healthy team spirit, as negativity kills creativity.

6. Take time to play and replenish

In the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, co-authors Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan write that “If we don’t take time to play, we face a joyless life of rigidity, lacking in creativity. The opposite of play isn’t work, but depression.” Share meals together from time to time to create emotional bonds. Try playing improv games to stimulate creativity before you start a meeting. A good resource to go to for improv exercises is Improv Encyclopedia.

7. Celebrate progress every day

What is the best way to motivate employees to do creative work? In their book The Progress Principle, creativity researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer advise managers,to help people make progress on meaningful work every day. Take a moment to celebrate and recognize the progress that you and your team have made each day.

This article was first published in my column on Inc.com