Resetting to create

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.

By Zé Marques