Tips, Tricks, and Crazy Schemes to Keep You Creative and Productive

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| January 9, 2012

It’s happened. The holidays are, in fact, over. The ball dropped, glasses clinked, and a new year rang in. In the midst of the holiday season, ensconced by a full social calendar, cookies, cake, and butter-drenched appetizers, resolutions were pushed to the background. Here we are, a month later, the New England sky is a cold thin blue, we’re back at work, and the cookies have crumbled long ago. With resolutions come new projects, new goals, and a push of our creative process.

Despite all this positive forward thinking, even the most creative design industry types can feel a bit stuck at times, particularly if we are working freelance. Today’s post will include tips to keep you creative, engaged with your work, and producing interesting, fresh pieces.

Exercise. Find yourself staring at the wall? Go for a walk. It can be around the block. Go for 10 minutes. The fresh air, increased heart rate, and dose of nature will improve your mood as well as your creativity, and you’ll get your day’s exercise too. Science backs this one up.

When we physically move our bodies, we move our brains too.

Change the scenery. Take your work to a different location. Try the local library, the coffee shop or, if you can’t get out of the office, try a different room in your office building. Different sights, smells and sounds will get you out of your normal routine and allow you to see the same issues in a different light. Literally!

Take stock. Take notes. Watch. Listen. There is a whole world out there, full of beauty and inspiration. Slow down for at least a few minutes a day. Some people write in a journal first thing in the morning. Some people practice meditation or yoga. Some people takes photographs. Whatever it is that you do, let the world slow down and find beauty in the small details of life.

Reach out. If you’re stuck on a project, call a friend who does not work in your field. (The social contact alone will give you an immediate emotional boost.) Then explain your project. You’ll have to give more background since you’re explaining it to someone who isn’t already familiar with the many elements that you take for granted. Merely talking through your project may illuminate what your next step should be.

If talking through the project didn’t quite do it, go ahead and ask your friend for feedback. This is an instance in which less is definitely more. By not having a sense of what is and is not feasible, your friend may come up with wild “solutions” and ideas that are technically impossible to implement. Some of those wild ideas just may have a useful element and get you thinking in a new direction.

Look at wonderful things. Go find art that is beautiful and wonderful. Give yourself 2 minutes to look at something that you find inspirational. Personally, I love newspaper blackouts They have the unexpectedness of good haiku with the honesty that PostSecret offered. I could read newspaper blackouts for hours. Don’t get me started on blogs; Colossal can lead me to time sinks that rival Wikipedia. But just two minutes is enough to remember that there is more art out there than you can shake a stick at, that some of it is very very good, and that it’s our job as artists to create more of the good stuff.

Use your hands. Technology is not always the answer. Write on real paper with a real pen, make drawings and sketches. Use crayons, use colored pencils. Drop the constraints of technology.

image by Don Dexter Antonion Photography

Get To It!

Practicality prevails. You have done all your creative work and now you need to get down to producing work. But the bathroom needs cleaning, laundry needs doing and the dog needs walking. If you find yourself procrastinating and finding your creative voice all day by going for epic walks and finding art on the Internet and not actually working, here are some tools for you.

Track it. If time slips away from you and all you’ve done with three hours is confirm that the Internet is still full of cute kittens, keep track of your time. Choose a timer and set it for ten minutes. Work for those ten minutes straight. Straight, I tell you, straight. After those ten minutes are up, the next two minutes are your break. Use those two minutes to get your Facebook fix or check out your favorite blog, then set that timer again, for another 10 minutes. You’ll be surprised by what you can get done in an hour!

image by Matthew Kirkland. The Prague Orloj tracks time as well as the position of the sun and moon, and is a public work of art to boot.

Block it. Don’t have the will-power to stay off the Internet for even 10 minutes? Believe me, I hear you. Use technology to your benefit! Software such as Self Control or Freedom blocks your Internet connection for a set period of time.

Congratulations; you’ve made it through the day with exercise and plenty of water, you’ve even gotten over a creative hurdle or two. The day is nearly done and you’ve produced some work. Good job! But now what?

Let it sit. Like good cheese, some things need to age. Your work won’t magically improve while sitting there, but your perspective on it will change. Come back and re-read your piece in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Hang visual works on the wall where you will see it when you walk past. Changes or errors can be more obvious from a distance.

What do you do to stay creative and motivated? Reply in comments with your own tips and tricks!


Clara LaFrance Clara LaFrance is a freelance graphic designer with an M.F.A. in graphic design from Boston University. She is currently a Course Producer at Sessions College, maintaining and updating online courses, as well as a freelance designer and circus teacher and performer.


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