21 Proven ways to boost your creativity—based on my true story

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The last 2 years have been the most creative and productive in my whole career.

In April 2014 I created my blog about design psychology. Since then I’ve published 50 posts, including videos.

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One year later I rebranded my studio, setup my website and launched 6 new services along with a monthly newsletter, wrote 2 e-books and designed a few gifts for my subscribers.

Much work, considering that apart from all the research and writing, I designed every detail, took photos, created 5 videos and produced a ton of print and digital promoting material.

I also organized a seminar. All that while working on several projects as interior designer and graphic designer.

I’m forgetting something, but that’s a lot of work for one person either way. I was really excited to wake up every day with one or two interesting ideas and rush into my office to start working on them. I still am.

After 2 years working 8 to 12 hours daily, often weekends included and not willing to take a break, I got ill with flu.
It was a clear sign my body and mind sending me that I needed to rest.

Being unable to work I started reflecting on the reasons and factors that led to this super creative period of my life.

This is how this article was born. It’s not a guide made of tips I gathered online, although most of my points you’ll find in similar posts.

You’ll actually read the true story of my daily routine during the last 26 months: facts, thoughts and habits that made the last 2 years extremely creative and productive. (The proof is online!)

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

I share it with you, because I am convinced that it can work for everyone!

Well, almost everyone!

If #1 and #2 are missing, then I’m afraid this post is useless.

The 2 most important conditions to be creative and productive are passion and motivation!

1. Follow your passion

I often meet people complaining about not having found what they really love. (The only situation I can compare the creative flow, is the excitement I feel when I am in love and scientists do agree).

The truth is that deep inside everybody knows what they most like, but they were once discouraged, even not allowed to follow their dreams and they gave up too easily.

You just can’t be very imaginative and inventive doing something you don’t like a lot. At least, not for long.

2. Find your motivation

If you are very comfortable with your present situation and you are not very ambitious, you’re more likely to quit when things get tough.

And it’s exactly then, when creativity emerges. My strongest motivation has been the worst financial crisis since World War II that my country, Greece, faced during the last seven years.

Before that, everything was going smoothly, I even had more work than I could handle. Suddenly, everything changed dramatically.

I had to struggle much harder than before to continue doing the work I love without leaving my country.

No complaints though; on the contrary, I’m truly grateful!

I wouldn’t have achieved so many things, I wouldn’t have improved my skills and expanded my horizons, were I not forced to abandon my comfort zone.

You’ve already heard that problems and difficulties make us more creative, inventive and smart.

It’s fascinating to conceive problems as challenges that you don’t know in advance where they will take you.

Happened to me several times.

(Some of the most famous inventions were unsuccessful attempts to find a solution for a different problem than the one they finally solved!)

My most tempting challenge was to promote my studio and attract more clients, without spending money; fortunately, I had plenty of time to invest.

So, I started my blog.

3. Start a blog or something new that will expand your horizons

Creating a blog was the smartest move in my whole career. In fact, it’s how all started!

I discovered a new world, a world whose existence I ignored. I suppose this is something most passionate bloggers experience.

Having a blog and searching for content, activated me in so many directions and gave me a lot of inspiration. Not only did I manage to reach my goal, but I also established myself as an expert in the field of interior design psychology. 

4. Get inspired by other smart creatives

Nobody creates something from scratch nowadays. Supposing you did, it would be extremely difficult to prove it!

It’s more like filling the missing parts of a puzzle with pieces found in other creatives’ work. If you are lucky, dedicated or talented, you may even come up with something completely innovative or spectacular.

However, you would still live in caves if only awarded architects designed houses. And I would be broke!

Watching, reading and listening  to successful and smart creatives about their work and life in general, is the perfect way to find motivation when you are disappointed and have lost your courage.

Ask the opinion of someone you trust, but follow the advice of those who already stand where you want to be.

5. Have creative, positive-thinking people around you

Do the same with friends and partners.

Choose positive-thinking, optimistic individuals who work, create and take full responsibility of their life, who believe that life is what we make it and it can be wonderful!

Run away from negative energy vampires who do nothing but grumble about their bad luck, instead of doing something to change their miserable lives.

You are instinctively attracted to positive, imaginative people to discuss your ideas, get inspiration and maybe cooperate and work together.

If you attract them too, then you’re on the right track! You’re probably already one of them!

6. Read a lot about several topics

Before I start my own blog, I didn’t have the slightest idea about blogging and web design. I started researching and reading thousands of blog posts, downloaded hundreds of e-Books, watched hours of videos and tutorials.

I still read 5 to 20 posts daily -depends on the day- and I follow over 50 blogs. Most blogs I subscribed were not about design, architecture or arts that I was already familiar with.

My inbox is full of posts on web design, blogging, online and content marketing, copy-writing, psychology and neuroscience. As a result, I succeeded to turn my weak point -selling my services- into my asset.

Reading books and blogs or attending seminars that are not closely connected to your topic can give you a new perspective, establish you as an expert in your niche and lead to opportunities you couldn’t imagine.

Thinking outside your comfort zone can definitely make you more creative and intelligent.

7. Listen to new music

Music is the best company a creative person can have.

While working -designing, writing and reading- I prefer listening to classical or contemporary instrumental music. It helps me focus my attention, puts me in a creative mood and calms me down.

Lyrics can distract me. Mozart and baroque composers are my favorite. Many studies show that listening to classical music can improve our mental performance on certain creative tasks.

Do not stick to what you usually do. Listening to a different kind of music, can really boost your creativity.

Music platforms like Soundcloud can help with their suggestions to discover new, talented composers from around the world.

8. Change habits and embrace new technology

The same goes with habits. Routine can kill your creativity too, not only your marriage!

There’s no need to travel to exotic countries to find inspiration. Visit new places in your city, taste different dishes, make new friends, attend events you haven’t before.  

Regarding your job, be the first to embrace new methods, software and apps. At least, test them before you reject them! They can boost your creativity and productivity, spare you precious time and make your life easier.

Besides they will train your brain and keep you up to date, competent, fresh and young! I discover a new useful app online every single day!

Ok, I admit, I’m an app freak! But please, don’t tell me you’re an architect, under 70, and hasn’t switched to CAD and BIM software yet!

9. Redecorate or renovate your workplace

Many people, experts included, ignore the huge impact of space and color in our physical and mental health and general well-being.

Almost 3 years ago I renovated my office, under certain guidelines I knew they would help me feel more relaxed, imaginative, productive and concentrated while working. The positive effects on my mood were impressively quick.

Before renovation, there was no way I would spend 10 even 12 hours at work, feeling wonderful, inspired and not tired at all!

Redecorate your office adding your favorite colors, more light and plants. You can also read about my thoughts on how your office’s design and decor can win or lose clients.

Only be sure that your home has a pleasant and cozy atmosphere too, otherwise you’ll end up living in your office!

10. Daydream like a child

As long as I remember myself, I’d been spending many hours daydreaming. Most of my dreams sooner or later came true; actually, I made them happen.

There was a period in my life, however, that I stopped making dreams. By that time I had been working in the educational field, had a high position, many responsibilities and already a lot of experience.

But I missed so much the excitement of creation. My decision to quit was finally a very smart move. You cannot create or produce anything unless you visualize it first. 

Free your imagination, start making dreams and do the best you can to leave a boring job. I still dream a lot, I’ve only replaced the word “dreams” with a strongest one: I now call them “plans”.

11. Meditate

A peaceful mind and a healthy body are necessary tools to keep you productive and creative. I prefer yoga, because it helps both mind and body at the same time.

You can find what suits you best, the key is to clear your mind from time to time and recharge your batteries. During or after meditation, problems can be solved easily and new ideas can emerge.

Exactly 2 years ago I also started watching videos for meditation, with positive subliminal messages. It finally became a daily habit, I start my day listening to a meditation audio.

I have no doubts that they helped too! Now get to work!

12. Work a lot to find inspiration

A lack of inspiration may indicate that either you work hard to exhaustion or you hardly work.

A common mistake people make is waiting for inspiration to start working, when it should be the other way round.
You need inspiration? Get to work! It’s true that some brilliant ideas come out of the blue.

I always keep a notebook by my bed, most ideas come to me before I fall asleep, when I wake up and when I have a shower! But, this happens while I am already busy with projects, designing or researching, when my main focus is at work.

You probably won’t come up with many ideas, just watching tv or chatting on social media all day. Start working and inspiration will always be there, sometimes not letting you sleep!

13. Have a schedule and set deadlines

Creative freelancers often have to deal with difficult issues such as tight schedules and stressful deadlines.

Supposing you had all the time you need, would you be more effective and deliver more quality work to your clients?

Well, I’m not so sure you would!

Being your own boss and tending to procrastination can be a serious problem.

Find the system that works for you, build a schedule and set deadlines. It’s the only way to complete tasks you’ve been putting off repeatedly, like updating your website!

A way to keep myself on track with personal projects -like posts or ebooks- is announcing them on social media or my monthly newsletter.

Since I want to be considered as a trusted and reliable professional, I deliver on time!

Quit bad habits that can block your creativity!

14. Stop being a perfectionist  

Perfectionism is a good excuse for not taking action. A perfectionist is usually a procrastinator and an insecure undercover. I’ve been there, but managed to keep it under control.

Doing the best you can and learning from your mistakes is essential in order to stand out and succeed.

As long as you’re expecting to make the perfect design or write the best article ever published, before you get exposed, you may never give yourself a chance.

Fear stands behind perfectionism and it disappears as soon as you take action.

15. Take the first step and start before you’re ready!

I use Google docs, colorful note papers and that notebook by my bed, to write down whatever comes in my mind.

This way I prevent great ideas from slipping out of my busy mind (or my poor memory), but there’s something more significant I do. I take this essential first step!

Although an exciting new project can get me to work immediately, I hate boring, non-creative, yet necessary duties, like editing copy, sending proposals etc.

The 1st trick I use is to break down boring tasks into smaller parts. It really works!
For example, I work 1 hour daily, for one week on a boring task instead of for half a working day.

8 times out of 10 I work for more than an hour. But, even 30’ are better than nothing! The 2nd trick is working only for the minimum required and perfecting things later.

When I come up with a promising idea, I make an attracting presentation and launch it.

If nobody’s interested in the new service I offer, I don’t have to work on it at all. This can spare you a lot of time and money! Just don’t be impatient, it usually takes some time before you see results!

You’ve probably already heard of both techniques before, all you have is to apply them!

16. Stop comparing yourself to others, just learn from them and get inspired

Easier said than done. Especially if you are a designer living in the internet era! Comparing yourself to others, more famous, talented, successful or promoted is inevitable, yet a huge mistake.

You usually miss out a crucial point: how much time and effort took them to get there! Compare your present work to your earlier projects and you’ll normally be proud! If not, either you are super talented, or you haven’t made any progress.

See the creatives you admire as mentors and teachers and not as competitors.

17. Stop discussing your plans.  Announce them!  

So, you have this cutting edge idea and you are so thrilled you can’t wait to  share it with everyone!

Do you want to be discouraged, disappointed and learn exactly why it won’t work? Go ahead and discuss it!

Supposing you’re a bit insecure and you tend to procrastinate, you’ll start immediately to reconsider your plans. Your outstanding idea will soon be forgotten. Ask the opinion of someone you trust and do the research needed before you launch something new.

Just don’t give many details. Start working and surprise them all when you’re done!

Also, be alert! If your concept is truly spectacular, there’s always the risk somebody will steal it.

18. Dare, the only way to creativity and success

You wouldn’t be reading this post now, if I didn’t dare to write in English, which is not my native language and send my article to an American blog. What’s the worst that could happen?

They might not like it at all. If they were impolite they might laugh at my audacity to send them such an awful post.
Even worse, they would send an email, shouting at me for wasting their time.

Well, I took it too far; Millo team is really great! But don’t tell me you never played silly scenarios in your mind, only to avoid being exposed to rejection. 

How many times did you lose great opportunities because of not being brave and daring?

Assuming that you don’t write, design or perform only for yourself, sooner or later you have to be exposed. You have no other choice! Fear of failure is one of creativity’s worst enemies.

Don’t believe those who claim they never failed. They probably did nothing! Or they are big liars!

19. Change the way you perceive failure

It can happen, that your great idea wasn’t well accepted, no matter how hard you worked on it or how much you believed in it.

The client may have bad taste, the market may not be ready for your innovation and there is a slight possibility, that your idea sucks.

When I look back to my first drafts, most of the times I find them very poor compared to the final versions. The fact they weren’t accepted immediately, helped me to improve.

It’s definitely wrong and not productive either to perceive as failure what is actually a part of  the creative process. As long as the final outcome is good, nobody will be interested in your first unsuccessful attempts.

Unless you become famous!

What helps a lot in dealing with rejection is not to take it personally by being strongly attached to one idea or concept. This attitude blocks creativity and won’t help you improve.

Look at your turned down project or unsuccessful idea as an opportunity to create something better.

I always encouraged my pupils to dare to make mistakes; a big mistake is something you’ll never forget and repeat!

So, back to my rejected post, how I would I react? First of all I would try to learn from the experience, understand my weak points, make the necessary revisions and publish it somewhere else or at my blog.

If you strongly believe in something, don’t give up too easily. Fight for it!

20. Do not give up,  just take the breaks you need

When you’re stuck and you feel you’re struggling without results, take a break! What I do is either relax and meet with friends or start working on a totally different project.

It’s amazing what the brain can figure out just taking a step back from what’s bothering you.

Having noticed that I always returned back with a fresh point of view after a small break, I integrated intervals as part of the creative process. Some clients are smart enough to understand that not being in a rush is to their own benefit.

21. Listen to yourself

Nothing can stop you from working countless hours, even sleep less every time you are in a creative flow. Just don’t overdo it for too long!

We all need to recharge our batteries after finishing a demanding task. The ups and downs of energy are a natural way our system is protecting us from physical or mental exhaustion.

Take some rest or do whatever relaxes you. Do it without regrets. Respect your body’s needs and listen to yourself, before the whisper turns to scream! I ignored the signs once and I got ill. Be smarter than me!

Unfortunately, there is no magical wand or recipe to transform you instantly into a creative professional.

The good news is we’re all born with creativity skills, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived. What make some individuals more creative than others is their attitude. They are more impulsive and eager to realise their dreams or plans and will spend less time thinking or analyzing every detail.

Unblock what’s keeping you from taking action, make the right choices to find inspiration and get rid of bad habits, wrong beliefs and useless fears that keep you down. See problems as challenges and failures as lessons.

You’ll soon find yourself more often in that state of mind known as “creative flow”. According to studies, the more time we experience the “creative flow”, the happier we are.

It’s worth giving it a try, don’t you think?

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About Mania Mavridou

Mania Mavridou is an architect and an interior designer, owner of DesignMania the interior+graphic design studio, where design meets psychology to create spaces for people to live and work in happily. Having a rich experience in teaching architectural drawing and CAD, she now gives lectures and seminars on interior design psychology and image marketing. In 2014 she founded Designing for Happiness, the 1st Greek blog about design psychology. The Successful Blog is her upcoming project that will teach you to be happy.

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Comments

  1. E. Osazuwa Tony says:

    Mania, thanks for this post. It has rejuvenated my whole creative being. It’s refreshing and really encouraging for my Design/Printing Hot Shop business.

    • Thanks for your nice words, Osazuwa!
      It’s good to know that my post has a positive impact on your life and career.
      Actually, this was the main reason I decided to share my thoughts writing this article.
      Help people follow their dreams and passion, since I’m convinced this is the only way to live a happy life.

  2. Thank you Mania for being so brave to write in English for us. I really enjoyed your advice. I think listening to our bodies becomes the hardest point to remember when it counts the most.

    • Thanks a lot, Lakazdi, it seems that you find it difficult to stop and relax! You need to believe that you deserve it and then you must learn to do it.

      Well, one doesn’t have to be brave to write in another language, it’s not like going to war! To be honest, 90% percent of the content I choose to read online is in English, so writing wasn’t that difficult for me.
      Like it or not -I do like it- English is the international web language, people who don’t speak it must have a very difficult time online!

      I’ve read recently, that communicating and thinking in more than one language can make us more smart and creative -and of course, the opportunities we have are countless!

  3. Thanks! Great advice! It’s fear that’s holding me back from jumping into a full-blown independent graphic design/illustration/writer career. I just don’t want to harm my family financially.
    Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Maybe you are not ready yet to take this step, Doug.
      But, if this is really your dream, start planning on how you can make it happen.
      Just don’t wait until you’re 100% sure and secure.
      I’m afraid this time will never come!

  4. Great Advice, Mania! It helps me a lot to bring back my motivation 🙂

  5. Elise Jongeling says:

    This has definitely left me with some serious food for thought. Thank you for such awesome advice!
    I have been wanting to start up my own freelance graphic design business but just can’t seem to make the transition yet… that’s why I am really trying to do as much research as I can before I fully dive into it.

    • Thanks Elise,
      it’s necessary to do as much research as you can, before you start your freelance business.
      Get used to it, because it’s something you’ll do for the rest of your life, when you finally become your own boss!
      I don’t remember how many changes, tests and improvements I’ve made so far, in order to keep competent and stand out.
      Actually, at this very moment I’m working on my website’s landing page for the 100th time! Small changes can be crucial.
      Sometimes we have to launch something before we feel we’re 100% ready and test the results in order to make the necessary improvements.

  6. A boost of creativity, indeed! Thanks, Mania! Fantastic article! Very inspiring!

  7. I’m extremely glad that you used a portion of this article to talk about taking your time and taking care of yourself. There’s a huge pressure to accomplish as much as possible while pursuing your passions in life, but hitting the pause button to relax isn’t talked about very much! We should definitely all remember that we’re human and are more productive when we’re healthy, happy, and well-rested.

    • No matter how much we love our creative job, there are some other things in life too!
      Resting, relaxing, exercising and taking care of ourselves, having fun and meeting with friends, partners and family, are necessary, especially if we work hard.
      We must not forget that we work to live, we don’t live to work!
      Although sometimes, it looks like we do the second!

  8. Bravo, great article mania , means a lot to me, can’t wait to have my own design business, though don’t know yet where to start.

    • If you love what you do Ardela, building your own business can be as much fun as running it!
      This was my experience!
      Reading blogs like MIllo can really help you to make the first steps avoiding mistakes. Actually, being here shows that you do know where to start!

  9. Gretchen says:

    This is the kind of inspiration you mention. Well done and thanks for the great post!

  10. Karolina says:

    oh wow, what a great article! I am currently in Crete and getting inspired by all the fab interior designs and now I found this inspiring advice! Fantastic! thank you so much.

    • Have a wonderful time in Crete, Carolina!
      It’s a fantastic place for holidays, actually is not just an island, it’s a whole country!
      I’ve been there many times for long vacation and still haven’t seen it all.
      Greece is a wonderful and inspiring country everybody should visit at least once! Not only in summer!
      Eat some great food there, drink a lot, enjoy the sea and sun, mountains and monuments and give my regards to the friendly, crazy Cretans!