Iconic designer Paula Scher once said, “You can only create when you’re in a state of play.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Being a full-time graphic designer allows me to be creative, help other businesses and entrepreneurs, AND pay the bills. BUT (there has to be a but), like most business owners, it also means I wear a lot of hats, and I’ve noticed that when I have a heavy creative load on top several administrative or organizational tasks, it tends to leave me feeling inspiration-less and like I can’t get in the design groove. It’s like I’m trying to mow down lots of tasks in my path to earn the prize of getting to be creative!
The privilege of having a creative job doesn’t mean I get to take the day off if I’m not “feeling creative”. I’ve gotta pull up my bootstraps and get cracking because we live in the real world of deadlines, promises, and obligations.
My number one recommendation is to avoid this problem altogether. How? With time-blocking. What is it? Well, basically you’re carving out your day or week into chunks where you tackle specific types of tasks during certain blocks of time. Depending on your business and if you’re a solo show, this will take some time to figure out but it’s so so effective even if you do it a little bit. For example, you could relegate one hour in the morning and one hour at the end of the day for client emails and keep the middle 2-3 days for your design work.
One morning could be devoted to bookkeeping and invoicing for the week and one day could be devoted to documenting processes or working on a time-consuming strategic problem for a client. It’s really about figuring out what works for you – and don’t be afraid to adjust this as your workload ebbs and flows (I know I do).
There are tons of great articles out there on the subject of time-blocking and how it protects our mental energy and keeps us productive. I’ve been practicing a basic form of it since I first went full-time in my own business. Back then, I set aside two hours, one morning a week for invoicing and bookkeeping. I quickly saw the benefit of having that bucket of time scheduled – I didn’t need to worry about when I was going to squeeze it in because it was already accounted for. Now, I try to do the same with other processes in my business like social media content creation and scheduling or even cleaning my office.
That said, sometimes it’s just really hard to get the creative flow going. Here are a few of my other strategies for getting back to a state of play, or creative mode:
- Take a walk in the fresh air to clear my head and look around me for inspiration
- Change my environment – this can mean working on sketches in a different area of the office than usual or heading to a coffee shop
- Brainstorm with a colleague or call a friend to bounce ideas around
- Give myself a set amount of time to do something completely unrelated for a while (like cooking or reading a book) – often, a great idea will strike when I’m not enveloped in the project
- Browse online for images, jokes, stories that lighten the mood.
Then, I try again…this time I focus only on one part of the overall project rather than staring at a huge blank page. For example, if I am working on a newsletter design, I may start with the masthead design, trying 3-4 ideas until I like something. Then, I move on to how the page layout comes together, utilizing some design elements or the “feel” of the masthead so it all ties together. Tackling things one “bite” at a time can really help!