The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creatives
It’s been a few weeks since I went full-time into design consulting and running UX Queen, and it’s been a wild ride! As my schedule has started to fill up with meaty UX problems to hack away at, I’ve found myself getting a little out of balance. (Come on, y’all, I’m not the only one who accidentally works until 9pm and skips dinner, right?) To get my creative mojo flowing, I’ve experimented with incorporating a few different healthy habits that make highly effective creatives.
There was a time when I took my creativity for granted, I thought it would always be there as something I could rely on for my profession. I had no idea that I needed to actively look after it and cultivate it. I first started noticing that my creative spark felt a little weak a few months after starting my first design job. I wasn’t excited to work on my project as I once was and didn’t feel like I was coming up with good design solutions.
Looking back on it now, I realize it was because I stopped sketching daily and partaking in brainstorms as I did while I was in school. After showing up at my workplace feeling unmotivated and very un-creative, I decided I had to do something!
So, I started experimenting.
After trial and error with dozens of new habits, I’ve narrowed down the habits that helped me the most and compiled a little cheat sheet for you: the 7 habits of highly effective creatives…
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s talk about what a highly effective creative individual looks like. The highly effective creative is someone who takes of their creative work very seriously (and almost religiously). There are certain habits, motions, and rituals this person performs in order to get into the right mode to for creative output. This person can sit down and make magic happen when time-boxed to 30 minutes. This person can summon their creativity and let their thoughts flow, when needed.
I know, I know…this person sounds like a mythical creature! (Any unicorns out there?!)
Let me let you in on a little secret — this highly effective creative person is actually hiding within each and everyone of us. To unlock these abilities, we have to invest in the habits to make creatively effortless.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creatives is as follow:
1. Meditate Daily
I think I’ve mentioned this one several times already, but I’ll say it again! Setting aside time to sit down and just be still is vital for any creative individual. Today, life throws so many challenges and distractions at us. As creative people, I think we have a strong tendency to be swept away by those distractions.
This is where meditation comes in.
Being able to train your mind (go to the mind gym, as I like to say!) every single day helps you maintain clarity and focus. When you make meditation and maintaining mental clarity a habit, it translates to your work.
This means when you sit at your desk to write, design, paint, sketch, or create, you’re able to get your mind in the game and start working immediately. Yes, immediately! It’s pretty amazing.
My biggest tip on meditation is to find something that works for you and stick with it consistently. I use the Headspace app and I love it. It keeps track of which types of meditations I’ve done and how many days in a row I’ve meditated. The best part is, it’s on my phone and I can do it anywhere!
2. Generate 10 ideas daily
This habit can be extrapolated in many different ways. The bottom line is, creative minds need to really work out their brains and flex their muscles daily.
I love equating the brain to the physical body, because I think it works very similarly. For example, if you jump into a hard workout without a warm up or a stretch, you’re bound to injure yourself. However, if you take the time to work your muscles and warm them up for the right exercises, you’re going to keep your body safe and be able to get the most out of that workout.
The human brain is similar.
If you work every day to warm up and train your mind to come up with 10 ideas or sketches a day, you are warming up your creativity.
Imagine if you did this daily…
Compounded over time, your creative muscles will be stronger than ever! Think olympic weightlifting strong!
To maintain this habit, I have a little idea notebook (digital and analog as well) that I sit in front of every morning after I meditate. I give myself a time limit and then I just write. I let the ideas fly out. It’s pretty amazing to watch 🙂
James Altucher has a fantastic article on how to become what he calls “an idea machine” and he takes this habit and dives into great detail. I highly recommend giving it a read.
Though generating 10 ideas daily starts out difficult for some people, over time, you’ll see it becoming easier and easier. You’ll also start to see the quality of your ideas skyrocket when you practice this type of idea generation.
3. Create for fun
It’s surprising how many of us creative individuals don’t make things for fun. Typically, we get bogged down in our work and then tell ourselves we don’t have time to make things just for the sake of making things. (I fall into this category, and it breaks my heart!)
The truth of the matter is, making things just to make them is the lifeblood of any highly effective creative. Doing so, allows us to work on the ideas that no one will pay for that we just really want to bring into reality. Being able to put that energy somewhere and nurture it is crucial.
Think about it – when we were young, no one paid us to make that ugly piece of pottery in our ceramics class, right?
Admit it, that was one of your most memorable creations and one of the moments where you felt your creative juices flowing so freely in your body.
As a highly effective creative, you want your body and mind to feel that surge of creative energy as you work (whether you’re getting paid or not). This brings out the best ideas, the most passionate pieces, and your best works of art.
If you want to be that highly effective creative, maintaining this energy is a must. So, carve out some time to just sit at a table with your art supplies or computer and just make!
If you’re at a loss for what to create for fun, I recommend looking back at work you did in your early years of creating. What did you do when no one told you to do so? For me, I have gone back to painting as a way to make things for fun. I had been wanting to try water color again after a long time, so 2 years ago, I finally decided to buy some supplies. Now, when I need to create things for fun, I’ll pull out my pad, brushes, and paint and just go for it.
Still can’t figure out what to make for fun? Go ahead and try something! I’d say start with something simple and analog. Got some crayons or markers? Got blank sheets of printer paper? Great, you’ve got the supplies! Now pull up some inspiration (Pinterest!!) and go to town!
Trust me, you’ll absolutely LOVE it!
The number one way to make sure this happens is to schedule it in your calendar. Ideally, you want to make 2 one-hour slots where you can just sit down and create. I would mark it as a recurring meeting. Once you make this a regular occurrence, making for fun will start to feel familiar again. You’ll love the familiar feeling, I promise!
4. Do Physical Activity
Now, I know there are some people that might cringe at the words “exercise,” “workout,” or “physical activity,” but hear me out on this one. Being able to get physical activity in your day will allow you to unlock parts of your brain with more ease.
Research has shown that regular exercise strengthens divergent and convergent thinking which are the two components of creative thinking. So, physical exercise is therefore a catalyst to creativity (and a must for highly effective creatives).
If you are not used to physical exercise, try to start out with 30 minute walks three times a week. I recommend taking walks outside instead of on a treadmill if you can (See #5!). If you’re someone who has a hard time sticking to a workout schedule, I would do a bit of research to find creative ways of getting physical activity in your life.
Here are a few examples I’d recommend:
- If you have a gym membership or access to a fitness facility, I would just set a schedule and stick to it. Make this decision automatically and show up when you say you will.
- Look around online for 30 minute at-home workouts. Today there are tons of these that incorporate light weights and high-intensity interval training. Try looking on Pinterest!
- Find a class and choose 3-4 days to attend. I do this and I’ve found it to be a lifesaver for me. I decided to go to CrossFit classes a few times a week, but you can choose to do yoga, pilates, kickboxing, some type of sport, or other activity.
- Hire a personal trainer. If you really feel lost and don’t have time figure out physical activity in your life, I recommend hiring a personal trainer that can meet with you on a regular basis.
The bottom line is to pick something and stick with it for awhile. Once you make physical activity regular, you’ll start to see your energy and creativity shift. You’ll really start to feel like that invincible, highly effective creative that we all want to be!
5. Go Forest Bathing
This habit sounds kind of funny, but is very simple. It’s a form of meditation that takes you outside to nature.
Forest bathing is simply the act of stepping outside for a period of time and letting yourself be around nature. Just simply be.
Being around nature just to be there is powerful. You’re not hiking or swimming or climbing, you’re just going outside to be one with nature. Making this a daily or bi-weekly habit will help you decrease stress (which inhibits creativity) and even boost your immunity!
Forest bathing originated in Japan, where they believe that being around forests is good for your health. In fact, you’ll that in many Japanese cities, a large section has been carved out for a forest or park. You’ll that many people regularly visit these parks to just sit or read. Taking this practice and applying it to our fast-paced lives of 2017 will work wonders.
As a highly effective creative, you’ll start to see anxieties melt away and feel rejuvenated. If you aren’t able to forest bathe as much as you’d like, I recommend buying plants for your workspace.
For me, bringing nature into my workspace means having a small airplant or a vase of freshly cut flowers on my desk. There is something invigorating about having this type of vibrant energy in your workspace. If you aren’t a flower person, I recommend trying out succulents or a small bamboo plant. There are several low-maintenance plants out there than can bring a little green into your space and allow for some micro forest bathing.
6. Take frequent breaks
Highly effective creatives don’t burn out.
They work when they need to and put limitations on their time.
They know that this is when their creative muscles are at their peak in the day and they want to be able to capitalize on those moments. This means being aware of what time of day and length of time is ideal for your productivity. Take note of these things in the next few weeks.
Knowing when to work also means knowing when not to work. Every 20-30 minutes, make it a habit to look away from your screen or your work and perhaps even stretch or take a short walk.
Micro-breaks help you keep your creativity and focus refreshed, but also ensure that you don’t get too bogged down in moments of frustration or creative block.
I also recommend experimenting with giving yourself daily deadlines for your work. If you tell yourself that you need to stop working at 6pm, see how much you can get done in that time with several breaks in between.
Being able to cut off your work and limit the time devoted to it will begin to make that time more productive. The truth of the matter is that work will expand to fill the time we have allotted for it. So, take frequent breaks to break up your day and set a daily “pencils down” time for yourself.
(If you haven’t tried it, I recommend experimenting with the Pomodoro technique. These 25 minute work intervals have been known to improve productivity and output greatly for many people.)
7. Do one thing for fun every day
This one’s my favorite habit out of all seven and it’s pretty self explanatory. This habit isn’t just for creatives – it’s for all humans.
Take time to do something that is fun for you! Life is meant to be fun, so you should take advantage of it. Being able to unwind, let loose, and enjoy is pretty powerful. Doing so helps you hit the next wave of work even harder than before!
So, go ahead, let yourself have a bit of fun!
For me, this means hanging out with a friend or watching my favorite episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I usually spend 30 minutes or so doing something fun daily, and it just makes me feel good.
If you have a hard time making room for fun in your life, I recommend you start out by scheduling it in your calendar 🙂
Using these habits can really set you apart as a highly effective creative. My best advice is to go through the list and chose 1-2 that you will begin implementing today. After 3 weeks, come back to this list and choose one more habit to implement. As you start making these regular practices in your day-to-day routine, you’ll begin to see the effects take hold in your life.
You’ll begin to see your productivity and work quality improve. You may even have more time on your hands because you are more effective with your time. Your peers, partners and clients will notice this! As a highly effective creative, you’ll leave a lasting impression on people’s minds. Now, that is cool! Which of these 7 habit will you try first?