You’re a master of visual innovation and clients pay you handsomely to produce cutting-edge graphics on demand. Usually, you deliver your vision on time and keep your customers happy. Occasionally, however, you end up in design purgatory, floundering aimlessly somewhere between the first and second layers of a Photoshop document. You’re not alone: most designers need to overcome creative block every now and again, and many use the following ten tips to help them get back to work.
Do Something Physical
Graphic design is a sedentary career, and many creatives sit in front of their computers for extended periods of time each day. When you’re lost in the flow, the graphic design feels freeing and exciting. When creative block strikes, on the other hand, you end up staring into space for hours. Sometimes, the answer is simple: just get up, get out, and do something. Go for a walk; go into the garden and pull a few weeds; create something with your bare hands, or cook a delicious meal.
Talk it Through
You’ve reached a critical stage in the design process, but something feels off and you can’t put your finger on what it is. Instead of pondering the conundrum alone, try talking it through with a trusted colleague, a mentor, your business partner, or a family member. Ask for advice and allow the other party the opportunity, to be honest about what they see. An extra set of eyes might be just what you need to figure out which design element isn’t working and why.
Write Down Your Worries
Money worries and relationship troubles are both notorious creative barriers. Sure, some people thrive under stress, but most of us crumble and end up in a very unconstructive heap. Thankfully, you can use two very simple tools—a pen and paper— to help alleviate some of that anxiety. Think of all the things you’re worried about and write them down so that you don’t have to hold them in the front of your mind anymore. Then, put the list away and try focusing on your work again.
Change Your Work Habits
Some individuals are morning people who rise with the sun and get everything done before noon. Others are night owls who rise at noon and stay up until 2:00 a.m. If you’re comfortable with your schedule, you needn’t change it—but if every day feels like a vicious cycle and you’re constantly tired and uninspired, you might decide to switch things up. You could cut back on coffee, go to bed at 10:00 p.m. and try getting up earlier, or you could incorporate the Pomodoro technique into your workday to increase your productivity and kindle inspiration.
Cut Extra Commitments
Social events, classes, and activities can help you unwind, expand your mind and find friends. If you’re too busy, however, you might end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. To avoid burnout, try nixing the least important events on your calendar, switching off your email, and grabbing some time alone instead. Find somewhere quiet, or failing that, invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones and leave the world behind for a while.
Learn Something New
Learning new things can reset your mind and give you additional fodder for inspiration. The learning process itself is also tremendously affirming and can help you feel more confident and creative. Think of something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do, design-related or not, and find an online or local in-person class. You never know: it might help you expand your business.
Freewrite or Doodle
Doodling on paper or freewriting can help you shake off the funk in short order. Take ten minutes to write whatever comes into your head or draw squiggles in a notebook—or combine the two for a multidisciplinary approach to overcome your creative block. Some creative professionals free-write, doodle, or even explore other artistic media on a regular basis to help their ideas flow more easily.
Give Yourself a Deadline
Some people are very self-driven, while others respond best to deadlines. If you don’t have a deadline and feel creative block beginning to set in, try giving yourself an artificial deadline to see if that helps. Even when fake, deadlines put pressure on you and can make you feel more organized and focused. Self-discipline doesn’t always come naturally, but you can help cultivate it artificially over time.
Keep a Notebook
Future-proof your precious design time by writing down ideas on the fly. You could use a little notebook and a pen, or a small tablet, or even your phone: whatever works best. The more you write down, the better prepared you’ll be the next time creative block strikes. When you feel uninspired later on, simply whip out your handy list of ideas and use one.
Be Kind to Yourself
When we feel uninspired and blocked, we tend to feel ashamed of ourselves as well. Unfortunately, that can make matters worse, because it’s very hard to be creative when you feel guilty. Instead of flagellating yourself and feeling worthless, come up with a list of affirmations you can repeat when times get hard. Try several of the techniques above to shake off the block and remember to talk to someone you trust about your feelings.
Creative block, like writer’s block, can strike suddenly and can feel quite debilitating. If you have a hard deadline in your sights and you need to overcome creative block, you might find it helpful to change your work habits or talk about your design with another visual professional. Doodling and freewriting can also work wonders. To prevent future design quagmires, try keeping an idea journal and dip into it when you get stuck.
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