Imagine this: You’re working on a creative project. It’s not exactly easy going, but something is special is happening – you’re losing track of time, focusing and trying new things with the confidence of a seasoned pro. Good news – this creative state of mind is actually a learned skill that you can use and improve whenever you want. It’s what blogger Steve Pavlina calls a “flow state” – when creativity just happens.
Here are a few simple rules that you can apply to your creative process to improve your confidence and do more and better work, whatever you try.
1. Set goals that make sense to you
We often look to what’s come before us when we set our goals. Instead, ask yourself “What do I want to achieve?” By setting goals that reflect who you are, you’ll be able to stop comparing your progress and start simply creating. Don’t feel like to succeed there is a right or a wrong way to do something. Art, writing and other forms of creativity are highly personal. When you’re truly interested in your goal, reaching it will be easier and more enjoyable.
2. Consider changing your setting
When you imagined yourself working effortlessly on a project earlier, did you see yourself in a quiet library, or a private office? Consider the space you work in, but be open-minded – This paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that exposing subjects to “a moderate…level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks” when compared to a quiet environment. You don’t have to leave the house, but try adjusting your environment when you’re sitting down to be creative. Light a candle or two, put on some music or let your favorite movie play in the background.
3. Use tools that suit you
If you loved to paint with a roller, why would you use a brush? If you wanted to enjoy yourself, you would choose the tool you liked and being efficient wouldn’t be as large a consideration.
An effortless creative process is unique to you, so try a few things and stick with what feels the most natural. You’ll work better and faster if you allow yourself to feel confident, not uncomfortable.
4. Dedicate your time to being creative
If you don’t start, you won’t ever finish. Even if you’re not a planning person, you’ll find that defining how you use the time allotted to you each day makes getting into a “groove” much easier. You don’t have to rush either. Remember, an hour of creativity could be one sitting or 4 short bursts of 15 minutes each. What matters is that you dedicate the time to being creative.
5. Gather your resources in advance
Having everything you expect you’ll need on hand before you begin will reduce friction and make creativity easier. If you’ll need books or articles, gather them up before you start. If you’re planning on using images, gather them up and put them in one place. Save all your links in one text document. If all you’ll use is your imagination, gather up the tools ahead of time, whether it’s a pencil and paper or just a cup of tea.
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on Squidoo HQ.