We've all been there, struggling to find inspiration and motivation when working on a new project. Whether it's designing a website, creating a brand, or even just a simple graphic for a blog post, sometimes our creative minds just hit a wall. Maybe you can’t focus, or you just don’t feel like it, or you are actively looking for the inspiration but you just can’t find it. Fear not - because today I'm going to share with you some personal tips and tricks that I use to get in the zone as a creative entrepreneur and find my flow as a designer.
Now, even if you don't work in the design industry, these strategies can still be applied to other types of creative work, such as copywriting, photography, or even bookkeeping and coaching. We all do creative work in our businesses, and sometimes we need a little push to get us going.
So, whether you are customizing a website template, creating a complete brand and website design for a client project, or even having a VIP day, these techniques will help you get focused, productive, and in flow as you design your next masterpiece.
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Launching a New Website Template
Recently, I launched a new template and it got me thinking about my own creative process again. As a designer, there are times when we need to get in the zone and really focus on the project at hand, right? For example, when I was creating the new template, there were two times that I really had to get in the zone for an extended period of time. First, was during the “idea stage”. I had to think about the fonts and colors, the vibe, who is it for, and so much more. Later on, I had to make big tweaks and envision what cool things we could do within the template.
In both situations, I needed to be creative and get in the zone, which is one of my favorite things to do as a designer anyway. It's a treasure to be able to turn off other business hats and focus solely on the design project. I know many of you listening feel the same way because you love being designers and you love the work you do. There's something special about being able to get in the zone and create something beautiful. So today, I’m sharing 5 tips for getting in the zone when working on a design project. I hope you hear this process and make it your own!
1. Dedicate more time than 30 minutes or a “quick work session” to the design task at hand.
I don't believe in creating designs in short 30-minute stints over the course of weeks or months. Instead, I prefer to sit down and work with the design uninterrupted for at least an hour or an hour and a half. I find that this gives me the time I need to really get into the zone and produce high-quality work.
That doesn’t mean you never get to take a break. I'm sure you can relate to that feeling of looking at a design for too long and feeling stuck staring at your Illustrator screen. When that happens, it's time to step away from the computer and give yourself a break. Your eyes and mind need time to rest and recharge. Sometimes, it is best to come back to the design later.
Most of the time though, II find it helpful to plan for at least an hour of uninterrupted time to work on a design. Trying to squeeze in design work between tight deadlines (like a meeting with a client in 30 mins, or needing to pick your kiddos up from school soon!) or with only a few minutes to spare can hinder your creativity and result in lower quality work. I know at this point in my business, I have to attend more meetings than I would realistically like to, but I still dedicate at least a few days a week of no meetings for this more focused work.
For example, today I have zero meetings, so I'm able to get in the zone creatively and work on writing and recording podcast content. I do the same thing on my design days, where I try to plan them without any meetings so I can fully focus on my design work.
On top of that, it's important to find the time of day when you feel the most creative. For me, I've always found that I'm more creative at night. Before becoming a mom, I loved to work on design projects after 5 PM, even staying up until 9 PM to work. Finding the time of day when you feel most creative and can work uninterrupted will help you get in the zone.
2. Get the right noise going.
When it comes to sound, I have a playlist for every project and client that I work on. This helps set the mood and keeps me vibing with my work for a longer period of time. However, if words or even musical notes become distracting during certain parts of the design process then I switch up my background noise to something like white noise or brown noise instead. That’s usually the case for me when I’m at the very beginning of a design project!
This YouTube video is one of my favorites for getting in the zone!
Regardless of what type of background noise works best for you, I’ve found that having some form of it can really help your creative flow and keep you productive
I also usually like to switch up my background noise depending on which phase I'm in for any given project. Early on, when I'm more in the planning phase and writing a lot, binaural beats work well for me. But once it's time for designing, music playlists that vibe with the project help keep me motivated and focused. And then there are times when I'm able to listen to a podcast while working too. Though honestly, Podcasts tend to be too distracting depending what I am working on. Everyone works differently though; some people have no issue listening to podcasts while designing.
I will give you an example of choosing the vibe of the music around the project. When I was designing the new Carrie template, I chose the Gossip Girl Playlist (on YouTube or Spotify) because it has that New York Upper East Side vibe which felt perfect for this project. It also brought back some great throwback songs that I hadn't heard in a while since it's an older show.
As another example, when I was designing the Leanne template, I was listening to Taylor Swift’s Lover album. I feel like you can kind of get a sense of those vibes when you look at that template!
Bonus Tip: Ask Your Client What Music They Love
If you're not sure what to listen to when working on a client project, why not ask them? Ask your clients to tell you what their brand would be as a musical artist or playlist; then try to pull that into what you're listening to as you work. It could be a great way to connect with your client and their brand in a unique way.
3. Have a “design drink” and light a candle.
When I need to get in the zone as a designer, it doesn’t end with sound! My third step when starting a design project is to have a special drink and light a candle. I know that sounds silly but this is what works for me! When I need to get in the zone as a designer, it usually means a latte from Starbucks or one of those La Colombe canned coffee drinks we buy at home. I’ve also grabbed a Kombucha or even a glass of wine when I’m working late too. Taking this extra step to treat myself to a beverage helps me feel relaxed and focused while I work.
Another thing that sets the mood for me is lighting a candle – it literally signifies the start and end of my work session! Even on days when I'm just at my desk for normal hours, lighting up a candle signals to myself that it's time to start (and I blow it out when it's time to stop) working for the day. It also makes my office smell lovely and I love to create a special atmosphere for myself.
As well as setting up a nice environment, there are other ways that you can keep productive during your design sessions. My top tip would be to make sure you physically write out what you're planning to design and what you're working through – this helps keep your thoughts organized and focused on the task at hand. Even if most of your design work is done digitally, taking some time away from the screen can be beneficial for those moments when your creativity starts to run low.
4. Put pen to paper
Most of you reading this right now are doing digital design work but that doesn’t mean you have to stay on the computer the entire time. One of my biggest tips when trying to get in the zone as a designer would be to make sure you physically write out what you're planning to design and what you're working through – it truly helps keep your thoughts organized and keeps you focused on the task at hand.
Whether it’s making a list of sections you're designing, wireframing with shapes, or just doodling - taking your ideas off-screen can help trigger new ways of thinking. And you don't need to be an artist – even if your drawings just look like squiggles and lines to anyone else, they can still make sense to you.
Use Cardboard Boxes to Map Out Your Project
Personally, I love to do this on those cardboard boxes we all get from Amazon. Cardboard is often longer and larger than a sheet of paper so I love to save those and then pull them out when I’m working on a big design project. With the help of Sharpies, I'm able to draw out my creative ideas on these objects and get a better understanding of what my end product will look like.
You don’t need to use cardboard though - you can tape paper together if you need a larger surface too. Close the laptop when you do this too and I think you’ll be surprised at how many unique ideas you truly come up with.
As someone with a background in graphic design in college, we had TONS of different branding projects throughout the year where we had to create logos, brand identity, and more. I remember during one of those classes the teacher required us to write/draw out 50-100 different logos BEFORE we were ever allowed to create them digitally. That seems crazy now but it was a GREAT way to get unique ideas out. I always found ideas #1-#10 were kind of the “obvious” logo choices, and then somewhere between 20-50 was where the magic happened (at least when looking for a UNIQUE idea). Even if something didn't end up being used, it still opened my mind to possibilities that I wouldn't have thought of otherwise. It also made the design process on the computer go smoother and faster once you got there!
5. Stop looking at other designers’ work.
I saved the biggest tip for last. When I'm trying to get in the zone and am designing, I don’t look at other people’s websites or pull up Pinterest. I’m not saying you can’t look at things like that during the discovery process, but I think it should be left behind during the actual design project. If you are currently designing with Showit open on one tab and somebody else’s website up in another, that’s lazy design work. Trust me, you can do better than that.
Obviously, there are caveats to this but most of the time I find the temptation to do something like this when designers are tight on time, feeling stressed, or even feeling a bit of imposter syndrome and feeling like someone else has all the answers. But trust me, it’s not worth it. You are amazing and you have your own gifts and style to bring into the world. Embrace that!
Want Help to Grow Your Design Business?
If you're looking for more detailed guidance on how to build your design business, you have to check out Booked Out Designer. Inside, I'm not teaching you things like “here's how to design a logo” or “here’s how to work Show it”. Instead, I'm teaching you how to turn your design skills into a business that actually makes money. From finding clients to managing finances, to sharing my own client experience from start to finish - it’s all in there.
It’s also not a course that you have to take like start to finish. You totally can and a lot of people do - but I personally like to think of it as a toolkit where you watch the modules you need when you need them and then you go back to others later. With 90+ lessons in total this course can help ANYONE build a booked out design business (whether they are searching for their first customer or are fully ready to raise their prices and want help with the next stages of their business).
TL;DR: Booked Out Designer is a comprehensive course for anyone looking to grow and elevate their design business. We cover everything from workflow and client process, to discovery calls, booking processes, finances and even legal considerations. Check out everything that’s inside here.
April 11, 2023