7 Tips to Increasing Productivity for the Creative Mind
A Guide for Better Quality Output When You’ve Hit a Mental Block
We’ve all had that feeling…some of us call it “hitting a wall,” some call it “creative block,” and others call it being unmotivated. As a creative individual, I get this all too familiar feeling time and time again. Since I’m currently working in-house as a designer, it’s often hard for me to employ tips that I read such as taking an hour break to run errands, or taking a 20 minute nap, or even having a change in scenery. So, naturally, I had to think outside of the box to improve my own experience…
After many trials and errors, I rounded up the top 7 tricks that work for me. Enjoy!
1. Stand up!
Often, when I feel like I’m stuck or frustrated with a design I’m working on or a problem I’m thinking through, I start to zone out. Essentially, I get bored of being “stuck” and not making progress on that task at hand. What I’ve started doing when that happens is to actually get up and physically change my position. That means if I was sitting down, I find a tall table or counter to work at (I seriously need to invest in a standing desk of some sort…). If I was at a desk for awhile, I’ll move to a larger table or surface. If I’ve been in artificial lighting, I’ll try to sit by a window or even go outside. There are times when physically changing my surroundings or the way my body is allows new creative energy to start flowing through. It’s magical!
2. Time Yourself
I’ve only started using this technique recently and I don’t normally use it on a daily basis. There are several ways to do this, but one of the most popular is the Pomodoro Technique. You use a timer and work for 25 minutes and take a short break for 5 minutes. I’ve found that timing myself or putting tasks into a time block of 20-25 minutes has been super useful, especially on the days when I have a whole lot of my to-do list. The best part of this is that it actually forces you to hyper-focus and produce in a short burst of energy. Having to force myself to work for 25 minutes or so, I found that I could also force myself out of a creative block! Give it a try. (Not to mention, it’s very healthy to look away from a computer screen every 20 minutes or so to rest your eyes! Win-win!)
Sometimes all you need to do is take a lap around the office. Get up and start moving! Get the blood flowing. If you’re like me, you have a very hard time sitting still. You’re always standing up, stretching, tapping your feet, or swiveling in your chair. (Sorry to anyone who sits next to me at the office, I just can’t help it!) In order to mitigate the fidgeting, I began taking short walks around the office. Sometimes I’ll even step outside or go say hi to a coworker I haven’t chatted with in awhile.
Walking around helps me clear my mind and refresh my thought process. Stepping away also helps me come back to a problem in a new frame of mind. Fresh perspective can really help to bring about new ideas or epiphanies that weren’t there before.
4. Change Your Medium
I’ve been employing this method for years now. It’s super simple but it’s made a world of a difference for me. Often as designers, we jump into Photoshop, Illustrator, or Sketch and start pushing pixels around. It’s easy to do – the computer is so quick and anything can be undone in a flash. But often being boxed into the screen and tied to pixels can actually hinder your thought process. I’ve found that it forces me to put unnecessarily limitations on my thinking, which then causes me to hit a mental roadblock.
So instead of torturing myself by staring at the blank Sketch Artboard, I’ve started switching mediums completely. That means I either grab my sketchbook and pen and start writing down my thoughts, or I grab a colorful marker and start drawing out my ideas on a whiteboard. Being able to sketch and write quickly (and also dump bad ideas quickly), I’m able to let my mind free up a bit and start thinking outside of the box. It’s super liberating and inevitably leads me to a better idea for whatever I’m working on.
The interesting thing is that this idea of switching mediums works both ways! I’ve also found that when I have been sketching on the whiteboard for way too long and am having a hard time picture a screen or a product, I can jump into Illustrator and mock it up in a flash. During this, I end up figuring out where the kinks of the idea were and am able to fix it in the process.
5. Talk to Someone
Sometimes you really just need to talk to someone. Bouncing ideas off of a coworker, classmate, or peer can work wonders. As creatives, it’s easy to get stuck in our heads too quickly and too easily. There are times you just need to talk it out with someone who understands the subject matter. It’s not even that they will give you the right answer, but sometimes they just know what questions to ask. Sometimes asking them questions can solve the problem as well. Being able to get out of your own head and start generating valuable conversation with someone else can help to bring about new ideas and therefore bring you out of a funk!
6. Go back to research
I know several projects where I feel like I’ve tried everything I know. I feel like I’ve exhausted every trick in the UX book and tried every combination for the design, but no matter what, it looks terrible. Feels hopeless, right? These are moments when I’ve realized that I need more inspiration. I need outside ideas. I need to know how other people solved this. I need to know how similar solutions look. So, I dive back into the research phase of my project. I’ve found that sometimes you just need more data points or examples to steer you in the right direction.
7. Remember the Why
Last, but not least is the “why.” Too often we forget the main reason we are doing something. We lose sight of the big picture. Why? Because we are human! Day to day tasks, priorities or problems can start to get hairy and complicated. And sometimes when this happens, we get caught up in the complications and let it bog us down. This is when stepping back and having a refresher is useful! Knowing why you’re doing something helps put things in perspective and declutters your mind to think more effectively.
By no means is this an exhaustive list on getting past your mental block, but hopefully you can try out some of these little tricks to find your groove again. Often, it’s a combination of a few of the above tactics that are just the right blend for a day full of bold, beautiful ideas. For me, the way I stay creative is always changing; what worked for me yesterday doesn’t always work for me today (annoying, I know!). But I’ve always found one thing comforting: we all encounter mental blocks! So, good news, you’re not alone!
Do you have any tricks you use to get back in the groove when you hit a wall? Or have you tried any of the ones mentioned above? Comment below and let us know how they worked!
Stay fabulous, y’all!