Stress less, create more with the best ways to hack creative success from top creative leaders.
You chose a creative career because you love, well, creating—but between the email, the meetings, and all the other distractions jamming up your day, when you finally have time for creative work, you already feel burnt-out.
Sound familiar? Then you’re like 75% of today’s creative teams that report being under increased pressure to deliver more, faster. The good news? You can massively alleviate stress and frustration and even improve the quality of your work with a few clever creative hacks. We assembled some of the best for brainstorming, workflow, collaboration, and more from today’s top creative leaders. Check it out.
Creativity & Brainstorming
1. Go outside of your comfort zone. The next time you’re feeling stuck in a creativity rut, challenge yourself to grab a project outside your normal skill-set. “Professional creatives tackle projects that will make them stretch,” says Steven Pressfield in The War of Art. “They take on assignments that bear them into uncharted waters, compel them to explore unconscious parts of themselves. Are they scared? Hell yes! If you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.”
2. Think In Combinations: Try thinking about the definition of an idea as a combination of other ideas—every amazing creative piece you’ve ever seen, heard, or watched can be broken down into smaller ideas that existed before.
3. Try Inversion: If you’re stuck in a brainstorm, come up with ideas for the opposite of the objective (like design the worst ever email for a new campaign). You’ll get the creative juices flowing and at the very least get some frustrations out with some laughs.
4. Apply the Principle of Priority: Maximize your time by knowing the difference between what’s “urgent” and what’s “important”—and then doing what’s important first. If you try and address every “urgent” issue that comes up, you’re more likely to waste time dealing with unimportant problems and ignoring the work that actually matters.
5. Create Daily Focus Blocks: Set basic parameters around how you spend valuable creative energy by establishing daily periods of uninterrupted time exclusively reserved for creative work (no distractions allowed). “Don’t be overly ambitious in how much time you think you can concentrate when just starting out,” warns Cal Newport, best-selling author of Deep Work. “Start with an hour of uninterrupted time and gradually add 15 minutes each week.”
Productivity & Workflow
6. Don’t Ignore Bad Workflows: As creatives, we tend to get so focused on delivering great work, we neglect the processes that get us there, ignoring frustrating, recurring, time-wasting tasks until we’re past the breaking point. Ignoring broken workflows is dangerous: they suck up valuable creative energy, and are often the main reason creatives burn out. Identify what’s not working in your process, talk to your peers, trade workarounds, and keep testing and learning until you land on how to fix it.
7. Cut Back on Distracting Communication: Identify and improve wasteful communication practices in your process. Put constraints on meetings: limit them to 30 minutes or less and insist on structured agendas. Schedule collaboration blocks or standing meetings throughout the week vs. sporadic ad hoc huddles. Try establishing email guidelines or customizing Slack to minimize noise in team communication channels.
8. Streamline Repetitive Tasks: Figure out if there are redundant or superfluous tasks in your workflow that can be streamlined or even eliminated by adding or subtracting steps or automating with technology. Reconfigure your team (or even individual) workflow so similar tasks are grouped within your day instead of causing mini disruptions throughout (i.e. block an hour each day for admin work, status updates, and email management).
9. Templatize Wherever Possible: Create templates for request forms, project timelines, and proof routes. Build style sheets with fonts, formats, margins, and other elements. Set up a color palette for brand-specific colors. Maintain a links folder that keeps all linked logos and images in one place for easy swapping. (You could even set certain images such as a corporate logo on a background layer to prevent designers from accidentally shifting while working.)
Collaboration & Client Service
10. Tailor Communication Styles: Some of the best work results from a diverse group of creatives coming together—but differences can quickly breed dysfunction if you don’t recognize people’s preferred communication styles (whether that’s on your team, with clients, or other stakeholders). Spend time figuring out how different collaborators like to communicate—are they a director? A relator? Do they like to socialize? Or are they more of a thinker? Then, tailor your interactions accordingly to optimize communication between you.
11. Try Creative Cross-Training: Improve the way your team collaborates across disciplines while flexing your personal creativity and diversifying your skill-set with creative cross-training. Spend 20-30 minutes every day for 30 days practicing a creative skill outside your primary craft, sharing your progress with your team along the way. (For example, a copywriter could learn Photoshop or a designer could learn to code.)
12. Be Braver About What You Don’t Know: Channel more courage into the way you communicate to head off frustrations, disagreements, or wasted resources. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the ultimate objective of a project that keeps pivoting—the answer to “why does this matter” might just be “it doesn’t”. Be braver about what you don’t know: If you’re struggling with the strategic vision for a new design, it’s much better to ask for a second pair of eyes or borrow another team member’s brain power than to start working and get too far down the wrong path.
13. Use Creative Briefs for Context: When presenting new creative work, always start by providing context from the creative brief: remind clients of the key components in the brief that informed the deliverable. If you’re presenting different options, refer back to the objectives or specifications in the brief that directed the creation of each piece. And don’t forget to layer in context about how the creative you’re presenting would be executed operationally: Will it be done in-house, and if so, by whom? What budget or resources will be used? What potential challenges or considerations have you identified?