Contrary to popular belief, as we learned a couple weeks ago, I’m surprisingly not in meetings eating cereal all day, as my kids may think.
Close, but not all the time… I mean, I admit, sometimes I do switch it up and have a pop-tart instead.
Actually, on any given day, you can find me at my desk working on a variety of different tasks. Yes, I have had a creative job title for the past 11 years, and I’m very fortunate to enjoy what I do. But before you start picturing me reading up on the latest new tech trends, or skimming through a modern design magazine, you may be surprised to know that I love a good work back schedule and a clean desk just as much as any account person. In fact, I find that I’m more creative when I’m organized and give myself plenty of space to focus. Because, let’s be honest, there are days I don’t feel “creative”, but I have to be, while also being efficient. I can’t sit around and wait for the mood to strike. Plus, I have 4-year-old twins who are just as dependent on me to get home. So how do I manage to be creative while being efficient? I know, those two words aren’t usually in the same sentence together, but I’ve learned how to make it happen so my week works and everything stays on track.
Here are my own personal best practices that I’ve made routine that help me get to a place where I can get those creative juices flowing.
1. FIRST, COFFEE (LOTS OF COFFEE) AND PRAYER
Once I’ve gotten out the door, on my way in, I have about a 25-minute drive. It’s my time to wake up and clear my mind before getting into the office. Repeat as necessary throughout the day :).
2. HAVE AN ACCOMPLISHABLE, FLEXIBLE TO-DO LIST
Do those two words even go together? My to-do list is my calendar. So to start, I keep my project calendar as up-to-date and accurate as possible. Because I’ve paid attention to my progress over the years, and have gotten to know clients well, I can pre-plan as much as possible. Which means, I’ve also learned I’ve got to be flexible. Little things are always going to pop up, and therefore, I’ve planned for buffer time on my calendar. EVERYDAY. The more I can plan my day, the more in control of it I feel. Once my day gets off track, it’s hard to get back on and stay focused.
3. KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO
Well that’s no fun. “We’re in client services, we don’t want to say no.” True. But no, doesn’t mean “no”, sometimes it means, finding out how to get it done another way — moving other things around on your schedule or finding someone else who can pinch hit. I want to be a dependable co-worker, and I want to stay true to the projects I commit to. If I just say yes to everything, I’m running a giant risk of not completing the task on time, pushing another project too far back, or turning in a half-baked job. When that happens, no one wins, because it has to go back on the schedule to be fixed.
4. STAY ORGANIZED, AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Are you sensing a pattern yet? This is actually a strategic-thinking tactic. Especially when I’m having a hard time getting the ball rolling, I find it is beneficial to organize all the information I can find about the project. Once I start laying everything out (that might even be literally spreading everything out on conference room tables) and categorizing things, I can start to see patterns and make sense of it all. Then, I can get the design, information, and any other aspects of the project to work together.
For example, I’m in the middle of working on two, 80+ page catalogs right now. Both catalogs needed to incorporate a story line throughout them that would tie to all their products. Once I organized where the messaging would be, and what would be surrounding it, the task of figuring out a storyline that made sense became easier. It’s the same with a project that I work on each year — re-designing a set of event materials that I’ve looked at all year long. It’s hard to think of something new when you’ve seen the same thing over and over again. So I started by taking everything out, re-organizing the content to see what made sense to be together, and the rest fell into place.
5. DO THE RESEARCH
Never stop learning. Research the customers, research on the client, research on competitors, research on design —you can never be armed with enough. I believe creativity is simply a solution to a problem. It just so happens that in my world, my solutions usually come in art form.
6. HAVE A CURIOUS MIND
As much as I want to be able to sit down at my desk, look up a few things, and dive right in, allowing my brain to wander wherever it needs to go, often times gets me to a solution quicker. Ok, I confess, this tactic sounds a little “artsy-fartsy”, but it’s the truth. When I start to go down different thought paths, or get lost during the research phase on a couple of random websites, it’s crazy to see how much quicker I come to a solution than if I try to stay within the certain parameters that I think will get me to the right place.
7. HAVE AN OPEN MIND
I never know when or where I’m going to find something that inspires me. Creativity is everywhere. Yes, Pinterest does help. And Google. But since each challenge requires a different solution, you never know where you’re going to get inspired to find the best idea. Regardless, I don’t limit myself to just searching the typical design hot spots. In fact, you’ll rarely find me there.
8. GIVE YOURSELF THE FREEDOM TO FAIL
Say what? We don’t have time for that. But we all know that sometimes we learn a lot more and come up with a better solution when we stumble along the way. Which also comes with being humble and having a good sense of humility. Giving yourself that freedom to know that’s it’s ok to not get it right the first time, takes the pressure off during the internal concepting phase. I should also add, this goes hand-in-hand with having a supportive team surrounding you. When you have a team who can give you honest and constructive feedback, while cheering you on to go back at it again, it makes it that much easier to lose the fear of failure.
9. KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY, OR WHEN TO STAY IN THE MOMENT
It could be just for 15 minutes to go talk to a co-worker or pet a puppy (we are lucky to always have a visiting fur ball around, though, I’m still campaigning for a full-time office pooch), or for a couple of days. I get it, not always are you going to be able to give it time, but forcing yourself to be creative, usually never gets you anywhere.
On the flip side, when you know you’re on the edge of figuring it out, or you’ve got a bunch of ideas you want to try out, do it before it’s too late! As much as I feel that it’s important to stick to your schedule so everything you committed to gets done when you said it would, you may not be able to get back into the moment.
10. OR… JUST QUIT
…working on the project! I can’t speak for all people with creative job titles, but if they’re anything like me, I tend to be my own worst critic. Sometimes I just need to learn to quit while I’m ahead (this is still a work in progress for me).
11. BE PASSIONATE
There’s no doubt it helps if you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re trying to solve for. You’ll have a ton more energy to put towards it. However, the reality is, I’m not going to be super energetic about everything. So when I’m lacking motivation, it helps to figure out why the client is passionate about the project.
12. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
This isn’t just true when buying a house. It’s also true when you need to get the creative juices flowing. I love my big computer screen, but sometimes I just need to re-locate to start on a project or get re-energized. Moving to a different part of our building, working from home (when the kids are in day-care of course, otherwise, no work would be done), or even taking a couple hours to go work from a coffee shop, is all I need.
13. CRANK UP THE TUNES
If I didn’t have music, I don’t know what I’d do. The more that’s on my plate, the more I need it. It helps me tune out (no pun intended) all the other thoughts swirling around my head so I can keep on task. As all mom’s know, there’s always something to think about.
14. STRIVE FOR THE BEST DESIGN
Here it is! How did it get to be last on the list? I love a great logo, or a package that’s perfectly put together. Truth is, if it’s not functional, it doesn’t matter how good the design looks. And I get it, everyone has a different definition of “good”. But if I jump straight into design, I’m going to miss an important piece of the puzzle, and it’s not going to be the best design for that client.
By no means is this a perfect recipe, but it sets me up for my best for that day. Remember, just take it one day at a time.