As a creative, no matter how expert you are at your craft, there are undoubtedly times when you know you’re capable of producing more than you’re putting out there.

 

With an abundance of distractions and inefficient processes clouding the way, creative people can easily fall prey to frustration and dismay from falling off their most productive game.

 

And ironically enough, it’s often the main tool at our fingertips which creates the biggest obstacle to our creative flow: the computer.

 

As designers, we have to spend hours in front of screens, but studies show this is less than great for our health and overall well-being. After a number of sleepless nights, a bout of carpal tunnel, and frequent migraines, I decided to see if there was a way to fulfill my desire to digitally create, with a more healthy and creativity-inducing lifestyle away from the screen.

 

What I found was that with more efficient practices and structure, we can get more done in less time, while fueling the creative fire that burns within.

 

So what if you could harness your creative energy to be more consistent and predictable, without losing the free-flowing creative energy that gives your work its uniqueness?

 

These research-backed steps will help you create the structure you need to produce far more creative work in less time, and feel amazing doing it.

 

Make the choice

The first step in fixing any problem is awareness that it’s actually a problem. And the second step? Making the choice to correct it. Deciding to spend less time in front of a screen and actually get more done might mean seriously revamping the entire structure of your day – not an easy challenge to face.

Consider the idea that you may be somewhat addicted to the feeling of “busy-ness” that you get from sitting in front of a screen all day. If you’re really committed to more creative output – it’s time to make a change.

 

Have a process

As creatives, we often tend to work with our shifting flows of energy and inspiration. But while this might be a nice, romanticized notion of the creative process, professionals know it’s not the best way to get sh*t done.

Let’s be clear: the difference between a professional and an amateur is process.

We all essentially have two brains fighting for control: One that thrives on process, and the other that thrives on distraction and being all over the place – also known as the “rational decision maker” and the “instant gratification monkey” (see Tim Urban’s TED talk.)

The instant gratification monkey in your brain will convince you that getting distracted for 8 hours on Dribble counts as productivity. Don’t be fooled. Use process to corral that monkey energy into your creative genius.

 

Mise en place

I learned the practice of mise en place while working as a chef, and implementing it into my creative process has dramatically increased my output. Basically, before any chef starts to cook, they gather all the ingredients and tools they will need to prepare the meal, so these tools can work almost like an extension of their own arm as they cook.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been immersed in a design, only to have my laptop run out of power – or have a great brainstorm session come to a halt because I ran out of Post-It’s.

So prepare like a chef, and take 5 minutes to set up your workspace before you sit down for your next design session. Think about things like charging your laptop, opening all the programs you need, sharpening pencils and placing paper, Post-It’s, and other supplies nearby.

The 3 principles of mise en place:

  1. Have the right tools (pencils, Post-It’s, etc.)
  2. Keep your tools “sharp”: e.g sharpen your pencils, charge your mouse, clean your eraser
  3. Keep your tools within reach, so they can act almost as a natural extension of your arm

Pencils before pixels

When it comes to efficiency in design, I believe the pencil is mightier than the pixel. While many designers swear by using software to flesh out their ideas, I ideate and prototype using pencil and paper for as long as possible. No matter how many photoshop shortcuts you know, you’ll never be able to ideate faster than with a simple pencil and paper. The simpler the tool, the quicker you work – and the more rapidly you can get your ideas down onto paper. What’s more, starting work on pencil and paper means you can start showing your ideas to customers as quickly as possible. Because feedback is such an essential part of design, the sooner (and more frequently) you get it, the better your work will become. Validating your ideas before transitioning to the screen is the best way to ensure you keep screen time to a minimum.

 

Turn off distractions

A study done at UC Irvine showed that the average worker is distracted every 11 minutes, and that it takes 25 minutes to return full focus to the original task after an interruption. From social media notifications flooding our every device, to emails pouring forth and the latest and most interesting information just a click away on your favorite (distracting) websites, we are encountering constant distractions throughout our “productive” workdays. If you are truly committed to living into your most productive potential, it’s time to turn off the distractions: or at least start asking some very important questions about them.

Start with this process of questioning the various online tools you use on a daily basis:

  • What is it?
  • Why is it useful?
  • How much time do I need to spend on it?

Once you’re clear on what you use, why you use it, and the time boundaries around them, it’s time to turn everything else off until the work is done.

 

Timebox

Ever heard of the Pomodoro method? That app is far more than just a cute little tomato icon. The Pomodoro method is a research-backed timeboxing tool for utilizing your time in the most effective possible way.

Studies have shown that our attention span dwindles around the 40 minute mark – yet so many people push and struggle through this natural ebb in focus. When you take a short (emphasis on the short) break every 25 or 50 minutes, you naturally re-energize your brain and body to keep producing great work over a sustained period.

 

Embrace smartcuts

While taking shortcuts in design can get you into trouble, smartcuts include any tool, method, or resource that helps you design more quickly. Every designer will have their own preferred set of smartcuts, which might include app-specific keyboard shortcuts, design patterns and color palettes, icon collections, sketch plugins, and so much more.

The basic idea behind a smartcut is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when you sit down to design a web app. There are so many processes that have been specifically designed to save you time and make your job as a designer easier! So every time you find yourself doing a repeatable process, stop and see how you can either systemize it yourself to save time, or find an app that already systematizes that for you.

 

Putting it all into action

For some reason, many creatives resist the idea of systems and structure, claiming that these “left-brained” tools will impinge on their intuitive flow and freedom. But the truth is, we need these structures to allow the freedom and flow to happen within them. All of these tools set the stage for our most creative energies to pour forth in their fullest expression.

Keep in mind that you can always take what works and leave what doesn’t – one method isn’t meant to work for everyone, and creatives in particular need to find what fits best with their energy. Whatever strategies you decide to try, it’s time to reclaim your creative energy and harness that into producing the output you know you’re capable of!