Creative work comes with its own sets of challenges and processes. It is sometimes unfairly correlated with a lack of structure, but as any designer or creative knows, creative work demands discipline. Meeting deadlines, managing administrative tasks, and consistently finding ways to grow as an artist requires focus and dedication. And, like professionals in any other industry, it can lead to burnout.
Here are eight easy ways you can stay productive and avoid overwhelming yourself.
Staying productive without being critical
While striving to be productive is a healthy goal that anyone can work toward, it must come with a special caveat. Being productive should not turn you into your own worst critic.
Analyzing each and every passing moment you spend “wasting” time doesn’t help you increase productivity, it just makes it seem unattainable. These tips should help you find a sweet spot in all of the tradeoffs you make to produce high-quality work. They may even help you avoid burnout, too.
Create a routine
A morning routine often shares a lot of similarities with new years resolutions; a well-intentioned idea at the start that becomes a source of mental and emotional fatigue, set ablaze by unrealistic expectations for consistency and “discipline”.
If you despise your routine, the simple solution is to abandon it and replace it with a new one that’s less complicated and requires very little change in your natural inclinations. Sending your energy to intense emotional journaling early in the morning, followed by elaborate breakfast plans and a multistep hygiene routine will likely leave you with little commitment to much else.
It’s a common experience many creatives have, so no, you should not feel like a failure if you didn’t start with yoga and intention setting this morning. Experiment with your routine to find what works for you. Look for what gets you going, and as for the fancy extra measures, it’s okay if they don’t get penciled in.
Lean on those around you
Collaboration is not only a professional quality that creatives are encouraged to embrace, but it often serves as a support for productivity, too. If you work with partners, setting time aside to bounce ideas off of one another can open you up to new perspectives, ideas, or considerations otherwise overlooked. Embracing the perspectives of colleagues with different professional backgrounds and training might be exactly the insight you need to kick-start a problem-solving mindset.
If you do work alone, networking can be your best friend here, and luckily, it’s a lot more fun with creatives than in other less entertaining pantsuit capacities. Turn to social media. Create a dedicated account exclusively for your studio, and use it to keep in touch with other artists.
You can also turn to inspo blogs and design news for emerging trends (or trendsetters). Our blog is a great place to start for that.
Prepare yourself to face the blank page
Getting started often seems like the hardest part of tackling any white page. Whether it’s an empty page or a blank screen staring back at you, the feeling is the same: overwhelming possibility.
For New Jersey designer Becki Kozel, a combination of an independent approach and a collaborative effort often works best. She recommends researching and collecting reference materials before starting so that designers can easily refer back to something when inspiration draws as empty as the page in front of them.
Before starting a project, set time aside to truly understand the task at hand from multiple perspectives. Create a working list of client-facing questions you can ask to help move projects along, especially when it comes to aesthetics and design preferences. Don’t be afraid to ask for references to work they enjoy or think their project should emulate– it makes research easier.
Consolidate and house your research somewhere you can return to it again as you work.
Create an environment you can create in
Traditional, modernist ideas about the environments creatives work in often conjure an anemic white space, one decorated in pale birch furniture with only clean aluminum alloy edges disrupting a possibly too-blank canvas. If the stuff of Swedish home design catalogs feels dated to you, you’re not alone.
Independent consultant Pavel Kedich reminds designers of the dangers that can come with prioritizing a commitment to a productive aesthetic, over prioritizing productivity itself. He reminds designers to, “keep something human, allowing yourself to make something new in your own way”.
Creativity, and harnessing its power to fuel your work, should start with your space. Play with light, switching harsh fluorescent bulbs for soft white ones that can be dimmed. Smart bulbs make this pretty painless, so there’s no need to search for electricians. Try to keep what you need close by to eliminate any of the distractions that come with passing by your partner or phone on the way to grabbing a water bottle or fresh cup of coffee. A small mini fridge near your desk or an electric kettle can help you fuel your brain without throwing in the opportunity to meander.
Strive to create a space that doesn’t force productivity on you through deprivation, but that feels comfortable and clear enough for you to work without easily becoming preoccupied. Plants are a great addition to your workspace, not only because of the organic aesthetic they add to space, but also because research suggests that they can make you more productive, happy, and stress-free.
Make peace with administrative work
You can easily get bogged down and feel uninspired if you spend hours plugging away at administrative work, and the same is true for long and involved creative projects that involve a lot of detail.
If you’re an independent creative, try breaking your day up with scheduled intervals of time for creative and administrative work. It can help avoid the feeling of running into a brick wall by allowing you to step back from work that is starting to feel monotonous so that you can regain clarity when you come back to it. And, by the end of the day, you’ll have knocked off tasks from two different laundry lists!
For those working on teams or that have the resources to delegate tasks externally, embrace the extra help!
Task out and delegate when possible, especially when it comes to administrative tasks that take a significant amount of time. Set time aside with your partners to discuss how you want to divvy up paperwork or if you want to find room in your budget to bring someone onto the team to help.
Spice up your tool kit
While you may have a preferred medium or a trusted tool you depend on, incorporating a mix of tried-and-true with something new can help keep creative juices flowing.
Use what works when it matters most, like around deadlines, so that you can support a steady workflow. But when you’re hitting a block, try to switch things up. This may mean moving from one digital tool to another, playing around with materials, or switching over to an analog tool kit.
“If you’ve never used pencil and paper, you should try sketching–the ability to ‘think’ with tools for a designer is like the availability of a broad vocabulary and good sense of rhetoric”, says San Francisco-based art director Anna Seslavinskaya.
Make the most of what your toolkits have to offer
Speeding up your workflows can often be as simple as leveraging your tools the right way. If you already use Readymag to keep your processes simple, a few of these tips can help you make them even easier.
- Use hotkey combinations and keyboard shortcuts to easily navigate the browser and use tools.
- Easily move widgets with bundle drag, which can also be combined with the F and V hotkeys to move bundled widgets to the top and bottom of pages.
- Copy animation settings across widgets with a few keystrokes.
- Use the Sizes and Snap features to check the distance between widgets as you move them.
- Turn created pages into templates that you can use again.
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