How to cultivate good habits that will encourage creativity

Phoebe Summers

Illustration: Phoebe Summers

We’ve all given excuses before: I’m too tired, I’m too busy, etc. Whether it’s to avoid going for that run you’ve marked on your calendar, or to enter your studio during the weekends when you’ve already put in 40-hour-weeks at your day job – procrastination is a tough habit to beat.

As creatives, we live and breathe design – whether it’s graphic design, art or illustration. Our minds are constantly running background tasks even if we don’t know it. You may appear to be chewing your food silently, but the real fact is that you’re thinking about that art piece you saw in a gallery a week ago. Or what about that time when you had that family vacation? Your kids were running around having fun and the only thing running through your mind is work – yup, the one you left back at home. Such is the mind of a working creative.

But there is hope.

We wind up this way (yes, I’ve been there!) because we aren’t living in the moment. And while that may sound like it isn’t anything particularly serious, it’s a bad habit. And bad habits are one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done. One way that has helped for me personally is to introduce new habits – things that when done time and time again, will help you get back on the creative track.

So here’s what has worked for me:

Making a list

To-dos, grocery lists, or even things you need for your trip – you need to write them all down. Because if you don’t, it’s going to be hiding in the recesses of your mind, just waiting for the most ridiculous moment to pop up and remind you of its existence. And then you’ll forget. Yet again.

Our brains can’t cope with too much tasks at any given time. And when you load it with a task such as remembering X, Y, and Z, you’ll leave little room for the things you want it to do. Like thinking up rad new ideas or joining together ideas to form new ones.

So let it all out on paper. Write every single thing down so that you won’t forget and your brain can get some rest!

Having a routine

What gets your brain juices flowing in the morning? Coffee? A run? A shower? Do that. Sometimes it’s good to establish a routine, especially those that have worked for you before. By having a routine, it frees up a lot of time thinking about what to do – you’ve an automated schedule to run so that you can leave your imagination where it counts the most.

Doing nothing at all

When your body is reluctant to do something – listen to it. It’s trying to tell you something. Instead of just dragging your body to the gym (or somewhere else you need to be), stop for a moment and just take a nap. Or just lie on the couch and read that book you’ve been putting aside. Maybe what you really want is to catch that favorite TV show? Then just do it.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how refreshed you’ll be when you start listening to your body instead of going against it. We’re not recommending that you flake on your appointments all the time – but sneaking in some time for yourself – especially if you don’t do it enough – will save your sanity.

Limiting time on social media sites

Yes, you heard me. It’s a time sucker. And when you’re refreshing that feed of yours, think of the time you could have spent on other, more productive things – things that could improve your art, or figuring out a way to earn more income through your art. Besides, reading too much Facebook is depressing – definitely not something you’d want when you’re trying to be creative.

Limit your viewing to 5 times a day, or only check your social media happenings in the evenings. Or perhaps it can be a reward for when you’ve checked things off your to-do list. The point is, get things done instead of watching others get things done.

Looking up. Or down.

We always look at things that are eye-level. Supermarket shelves are stocked so that their popular items are placed at eye-level. But look deeper – up the aisle and down as well and you’ll be surprised at the things you find. Life is a lot like that as well. Inspiration is everywhere, the saying goes. And it’s certainly not limited to the scope of vision that we’re used to looking at. So Remember: look up and down wherever you go. Soften your gaze a little.

Writing down ideas.

Much like the above, you should write down any ideas you come across. Not just lists of things. Business ideas, ideas for your art, a new way of experimenting with your technique – all these should be written down because as we mentioned earlier, our brain can only do so much. And once you forget them, it might be gone forever.

I’ve kicked myself so hard because I had on many occasions, a great idea that I forgot to pen down. I would then spend hours or even days trying so hard to grasp or fill in the blanks. It was a waste of time indeed. And that’s if I can recall it again!

Revisit ideas and combine them to create new things.

Once you have a book of ideas, take some time to flip through it when you’re stuck. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find jumping out between those pages – because when ideas get together, the party is just getting started!

Doing the most important stuff first

Contrary to beliefs, your emails isn’t the most important thing that you need to do. So instead of firing up the Mail manager, you need to work on your work first. We get so wrapped up responding to things that we sometimes forget to create. So before you get sucked into the menial stuff, make sure to put your energy where it’s needed most of all – creating work that matters – before you start on the small stuff. Believe you me, it’s the small stuff that will suck the energy out of you before you know it!

Practice, practice, practice

All the above are simple measures to help you rein in your time. But without practice, you’ll fall into the same old bad habits that got you into trouble in the first place. So keep at them and you’ll find that all these habits will come naturally.

There you have it – my go-to list on creating new habits to encourage your creativity to flourish. Are these among the habits that you’re putting into gear post new year?

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

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Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 02/29/16 under artists,business,idea generation
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