There’s no shortage of lists talking about ways to stay creative; one of my favourites being 29 ways but that’s all they really are – lists. They don’t really go into depth about the tools available and how to really utilise them in an efficient and creative work flow.
As a designer, it’s imperative that I remain in the loop about the latest trends and technologies and it’s essential to follow a few rituals to keep the creativity brewing. I’d like to share my top 5 tips and tools for staying creative.
1. Make Notes/Sketches
There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to recall a spark of genius you had while on the train or at the cinema which you simply cannot remember when you get in front of your desk. Make notes and sketch wherever you go to serve as cue cards when you need them most. Depending on your lifestyle, you could simply carry around a notebook and pencil however for most – including myself – the most effective way would be via your smartphone. Evernote is a brilliant tool which lets you capture your thoughts on your phone or tablet (even while offline) and organise the notes into topical notebooks. You can add text, audio, photos from your phones camera and even your geo-location. In fact, the draft for this post was written in Evernote while on the train home from work.
Another tool which I’ve been using recently is Wunderlist which is a lot more stripped down than Evernote and more about making task lists. The wunderful thing about Wunderlist is the fact that its available on every mobile platform, desktop, and web; and its interface is beautiful. It also allows you to share a list allowing several people to keep in sync at once.
2. Subscribe To RSS Feeds
RSS (Rich Site Summary) is a format for delivering regularly changing web content – usually from news websites and blogs. It allows a person to subscribe to regular updates from a particular website without the need to share their personal information (i.e. signing up to a email newsletter). There are many folks who believe that RSS is dead however I feel that it is more important today as it’s ever been!
We’re currently in a state of information overload in the form of tweets, status updates, emails and more. Everyone is trying to push their message in front of your eyes. It’s hard to sift through all of the noise and find what you want without signing up to a few dozen e-newsletters – thus clogging up your inbox on a daily basis.
Google Reader solves all of this in one intelligent and convenient blow! Sign up for free and the next time you find a website whose content you’d like to ‘follow’, copy the feed URL and add it to your Google Reader account. Now you can sync your account in a whole heap of desktop and mobile applications so your content is with you whenever you decide to read it.
Feed Demon is a must for Windows users. It syncs with Google Reader; pulling in all your folders and tags etc. It runs in the background and can provide a notification whenever one of your feeds is updated. MobileRSS is the best and most simple reader I’ve used on the iPhone. It feels very similar to Feed Demon so the two go hand in hand beautifully. Flipboard on the other hand makes your feed look and feel like a real, personalised magazine, but unfortunately doesn’t sync as well as MobileRSS (so marking items as ‘read’ doesn’t always work). Reeder for Mac does a great job too and syncs with its iPhone and iPad apps.
3. Read Everything
It may sound obvious but the amount of people who simply say they ‘don’t have time’ to read is astonishing. I too was one of those people until recently when I started taking public transport to work rather than driving. The 45+ minute journey now gives me plenty of time to breeze through a book, newspaper or magazine. I’ve found that over the past couple of months my reading speed has increased massively and I’m able to digest the information much more easily. There’s hundreds of great books available for creatives – I highly recommend Making Ideas Happen – but even scanning over a couple of articles in the newspaper in the morning will really get your mind ticking in time for work!
4. Stumble, Stumble, Stumble
If like me, you’re prone to eating your lunch at your desk, make sure you use your hour wisely. Use Stumbleupon to quickly find web pages related to your favourite topics. Once you’ve created an account, pick a few key topics (not too many), install the browser extension and hit the stumble button over and over again. It’s a great way to curate content for your own blog or tweets!
Beware: Stumbleupon can quickly become addictive so don’t let it overtake your life too much. You have been warned!
5. Share Your Knowledge
In order to boost your creativity, you need to surround yourself with creative people and content. The reason you’re around these people is because of their willingness to share their knowledge and you should do the same. By committing yourself to share, you are also committing yourself to create. Your competitive side should kick in and you’ll push yourself to create content which is on par with your peers (and better than your own last piece).
If you’re using Twitter to share your thoughts, be sure not to share too much content that you appear to be spamming your followers. The best way to tackle this is to use a service like Buffer which allows you to queue up all your updates and sporadically publish them to your social networks. Buffer has browser extensions and mobile apps making it easy to schedule wherever you are. It also integrates well with a number of other apps – my favourite being Pocket, which you should definitely be using to save web pages for reading later.