I like to think I’m organised. I try to have my calendar as up to speed as possible and scheduled everything that involves interacting with other people. I keep my to-do list as updated as possible. I use a habits app to track things that I want to do everyday (eating well, meditating, reading, etc.), because I need to remind myself to do these things. In an ideal scenario this works like a perfectly conducted symphony.  But everything runs in cycles and once in a while I realise that I start ignoring my system. I get overwhelmed and start replacing things I know I need to do to keep balanced with things that require less effort. It doesn’t happen all at once. I start letting small things slide until it takes a toll and I figure I have to do something about it.
So what does this have to do with design? Well, for me it has a lot. My work requires some degree of creativity. If I my system is not functioning like a well oiled machine it starts affecting my decision making. I start opting for straight forward approaches instead of allowing myself to create some distance to the problems, so that I can think of other solutions that could have a greater impact.
Here are a few hacks I use to reset and achieve the focus I need to function at an optimal level:

#1 Digital life clean up

Like I mentioned before I rely on digital tools to get my life and work organised. But sometimes I over do it and it turns in to one of the reasons I become overwhelmed. I have a tendency to set a lot of recurring tasks, thinks I want to make sure I accomplish every day. But starting the day with 30 to-dos and a full calendar is not a great way to get motivated. So one thing I try to do is remove everything that isn’t vital and start over and clean up the remaining.

#2 Meditation

I know, everyone is doing meditation but it doesn’t hurt to mention it. I follow the mindfulness meditation method, but sometimes I just use a timer and focus on the breathing and let my mind wander away. It gives me the space to think about problems I’m trying to solve at a deeper level. Sitting in front a screen has a negative effect on conceptual creativity, and it forces me to focus too narrowly on the problem I’m facing, instead of zooming out and being able to take a look and the grand scheme of things.

#3 Going offline

Changing the tools I use to create also has a positive effect. Instead of relying on digital tools, I stick to pen and paper. It removes the distractions and the desire to procrastinate the task at hand by finding an alternate task that I can justify as important. It allows me to focus on the larger issues instead of being immediately tempted to start focusing on smaller (often visual) details.

#4 Short walks

Going for walks has a similar outcome to going offline, but without relying on a physical support to register ideas. This allows expanding the thought process as I don’t stay focused on one specific idea. It has some bonuses too: I get inspiration from looking around, anything can be a trigger for a new idea, and also get some fresh air and get do some physical activity.
These are a few quick tricks I use to jump start my creativity when things get rough. They are quick wins that don’t require that much change and allow me to keep on track.

Posted by Zé Marques

Designer and front-end developer, loves indie things, far away places and non-fancy gin & tonics. Jammin' @Automattic.