How do you store your ideas to be organized and easily accessible to use as raw material in different projects?

In today’s Q&A Monday, methods for organizing your ideas that make it so much more convenient to act:

How do you store your ideas to be organised and easily accessible to use as raw material in different projects?
Anonymous (via Quora)

I find ways to make storing ideas fun and rewarding. I have little “rules” (ie guidelines) that help it feel like a game. The basic outline of my system includes sketching, lists, and a calendar. I keep as little in my brain as possible. Delegate remembering any thoughts and ideas to the system.

Getting Things Done

I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen and base some organizational ideas on that. One of the main ideas of Getting Things Done is to write down anything you think of. Then put it in a place where you can remember it. The other principle is separating an actionable task from reference material. Actionable items are broken down into small tasks and included on project task lists.

Then the only habit I have to have is to check the lists or calendar. It’s a lot more freeform than it may sound, basically just write things down. I have designed this “Choose Your Own Adventure” style Getting Things Done cheat sheet that I’ve hung up at my desk at work:

Getting Things Done Process Poster

The system shown here helps with my graphic design work as I decide how to accomplish all of my daily priorities. At the same time, when thoughts drift to personal tasks and ideas that could be distracting I can quickly make a note on my shopping list.

I keep a Google Tasks app on my phone to keep lists of various thoughts, quotes, and links to articles I’ve found. It’s a pretty simple system with some basic categories like painting ideas and quotes. Within each category, a lot of what is captured is in random order.

Step 1: Brainstorm using a trigger list

A trigger list is a short list of keywords that helps with brainstorming even more thoughts. It reminds me to write down ideas I may not have written yet: Boss, Painting, Bills, Important Dates, Weekly Events, Projects, and Unfinished tasks. The words themselves jog memories. I jot downanyl thoughts that come to mind when reading my list. Then organize them into the above systems

Sketch when you can

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

Sketching and doodling are fun ways I get ideas to paper. I like to get ideas out of my head where they can seem perfect and large onto paper where they’re small and can be thrown away. I scribble sketches. I like cheap spiral notebooks. I have sketchbooks where I move up to a different level of finished artwork and design. The cheapness of the notebooks helps me feel less precious and anxious about whatever I’m putting down.

A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that doodlers remember more than non doodlers when told to tediously delivered information (via Time.com). Participants had to listen to a fake voicemail filled with rambling information. We’ve all had to do this at some point. Even after they were removed from their papers, doodlers were able to retain more details. The researchers conclude that doodling helps focus and prevents daydreaming.

Step 2: Sort Reference Material and Inspiration

For any thought or idea that isn’t related directly to an action, task, or project I keep on lists by various categories.  Joan Rivers was known to use index cards to store every joke, as she explained in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”. She would type each on index cards and file them by the subject of the joke. If it’s an idea related to landscape paintings, I have a list for that. I keep lists of quotes, articles, and all kinds of thoughts.

Blogging and social media can help!

As Austin Kleon wrote in his book Steal Like An Artist, “Do good work and put it where people can see it”. I’ll often write a short blog post combining ideas from various articles, studies, and inspiration. That way they’re available for me when I need them. Often others will have new points which help with my creative process.

Steal-Like-An-Artist-Cover
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Pinterest is a nice tool for storing inspiration. Anything inspiring me on the web gets pinned. I also use it to search for visuals. Anything that has an image associated with it gets pinned.

Step 3: Keeping lists of actions

Project Lists

When I have decided on a project, I sift through the lists and put the items in priority order. For example, if I’ve decided to paint any tasks involved in making the painting onto my task list. You’d be surprised how much putting things in a single place can create inspiration and motivation. It makes difficult and complex tasks suddenly feel easy

Actions include sketching out thumbnails, working out any drawings, and finally any ideas that might work through the painting. It’s almost magical how separating references from actual tasks helps me to focus. Suddenly it becomes convenient and easy since I have a clear next step to take.

A lot of procrastination happens when I don’t have a clear direction. I dread having to think through a project after each step. Figuring out the whole scope within 15 seconds of typing makes it all go by quickly

Someday Maybe Lists

It’s also worthwhile to set aside ideas that aren’t happening any time soon. It’s a relief to let them go here. When you have free time, having a bunch of ideas that might suddenly become possible or appealing is also a lifesaver.

Context lists

Another type of organizational tool I use is having lists based on location or context. This could be “When I’m on my computer”, which I’ll abbreviate @computer. This would have lists reminding me to read a website, pay a bill, or order art supplies from Amazon. Other examples of contexts: Home, Car, Work, Bathroom, TV, Microsoft Word, During Monday’s Meeting.

Step 4: Schedule what you can on your calendars

Some ideas belong in the realm of scheduling. If you can schedule it, then schedule it. Setting simple reminders of days that would be great to sketch helps me get on track. Google Calendar lets me set phone notifications, so I don’t even need to actively check for most things

Perhaps I have an idea to do plein aire painting. Not very useful in the winter. I could leave a note on my calendar reminding myself not to waste the summer and look back into this. Having a loose plan for your day, week, or year is an amazing way to spark creativity

Step 5: Forget the rest

In a recent episode of her podcast Happier, habits researcher Gretchen Rubin suggests instead not organizing and getting rid of clutter. Some ideas may never happen or won’t be useful. Learn when to let them go as you’re going through this whole process. If any ideas are timely or have a shelf life, make that clear in your system.

Readers, how do you organize your thoughts and ideas?

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What habits help you be creative? 3 Strategies from “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin

Today’s Q&A Monday explores creative habits:

“What habits help you be more creative?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, a book on habit change

To focus on creativity I have several habit strategies including:

  1. Act creatively now or as soon as possible
  2. Make your habits convenient helps.
  3. Change the external circumstances.

I find audiobooks and podcasts to be an incredibly inspiring habits. Listening to other creatives and being exposed to their work. That helps me want to create work of my own. Many audiobooks are free online via my local library. If your library offers this, I can’t recommend it enough.

I recently listened to “Happier at Home” by researcher Gretchen Rubin in which she focuses on changing her habits one step at a time. She makes her decisions based on her research into the science of human behavior.

1. Act creatively now

Don’t let life get in the way of life will always be in the way. Learn to face the fears that keep you from acting. In  Happier at Home, Rubin discusses how easy it is to plan and difficult it can be to act. If we let it be difficult. “It’s so easy to wish that we’d made an effort in the past so that we’d happily be enjoying the benefit now, but when now is the time when that effort must be made, as it always is, that prospect is much less inviting.”

“The future depends on what you do today.”
Mahatma Gandhi

So having a habit of focusing on how can I be my most creative self right now at this moment. We’ll imagine that after we clean our house, do our errands, and plan our project that at that point we’ll finally have energy. Of course, after that’s all done we just want to rest. New errands will prop up and we’ll be on a never-ending cycle.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
C.G. Jung

One procrastination study found that people creating retirement plans in terms of DAYS plan to start saving 4 times sooner compared to when thinking in months or years.

We tend to attend to our present. We trust that we will handle your needs in the future. This is demonstrated by a procrastination study published in Psychological Science. By framing future events as days instead of months or years, they helped participants perceive future events as more imminent. Those studied who have presented retirement in terms of days would estimate planning 4 times sooner.

2. Make your habits convenient

David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done (GTD), has a solution. Make creativity a priority right now by setting smaller activities and sticking to them. Rather than “cleaning” and “drawing”, decide that you’ll do specific small tasks:

  • “I’ll fill a piece of paper thumbnails in 30 minutes.”
  • “I’ll load the dishwasher.”
  • “Pick a thumbnail to draw a more detailed piece.”
  • “I’ll run to the store and pick up a specific list of items.”

Note how each task is as specific and least sprawling as possible. I’ve found this method useful and less stressful in many situations. Small tasks are less overwhelming and more convenient. Gretchen Rubin refers to this as the “Strategy of Convenience”: “70 percent of long-term gym memberships are mostly unused, but a dog needs walking every day.”

Setting priorities is key here for me. I must get that dishwasher loaded. I must make it to the store. It’s also important that I find ways to be creative as often as possible. Breaking life into small and manageable tasks makes finding a balance that much easier.

“I firmly believe that everyone deserves to live within walking distance of either beauty or convenience, if not both.” Victoria Moran

Living within Baltimore City makes many errands and events very convenient. My gym is even close by and I stick with the group classes because that lets them determine the schedule. Letting go and allowing external forces to control certain aspects of my life is just embracing the inevitable. I can’t control many or most things, so I might as well make a conscious choice to focus on what to let go of.

I also have a Choose Your Own Adventure-style free downloadable (PDF) flowchart based on the Getting Things Done principles. With a little preparation, you can set yourself up for convenience

3. Change the external circumstances

Most of our current behaviors are incredibly well-practiced and fairly automatic, according to a study on intentions published in Psychological Bulletin. Students were most likely to change their daily habits by transferring to a different university compared to a control group.

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.” Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab

If you’re the kind of person who is motivated by external goals, then find ways to set them. Explore and test ways to collaborate, interact, and include others. Create your best work and share what you create. You might figure out all of your friend’s birthdays and plan to make birthday cards.

If you need something more concrete, take a class. Craigslist is useful for finding art shows, classes, and related events. I’ve found many free events related to art and culture in the events sections of Yelp and Facebook.

Make a habit of volunteering

Volunteering also presents excellent opportunities to both be creative and inspired. You’ll meet other artists and creatives, see their work, and hopefully, do something good for your community.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” Barack Obama

Putting yourself in the position to have to tackle your goals. Volunteering whether directly related to my work also helps me structure my time and creates a feeling of overall well-being, which is always a good thing!

Sites like volunteermatch.org will help you get involved in local arts programs. Research by the University of Exeter Medical School reported on WebMD used data from over 40 published papers related to volunteering and happiness. They found that volunteers were less susceptible to depression and more satisfied with their lives. Volunteers were also at a 20% less risk of death than non-volunteers.

Readers, what habits help you be more creative? Add your answer in the comments.

What habits help you be creative? 3 Strategies

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

5 Steps to Having More Creative Ideas

How can I come up with better ideas more often? Other people seem to be really creative and always have good ideas. Is there a way I can jump start my imagination when a blank page is staring me in the face?

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wondered how creative geniuses do so much. They seem to have a never ending stream of good ideas. We’ve all have our shining moments, where we came up with a great joke, strung together the perfect sentence, or even painted something that was greatly admired. Since I work as a designer, there’s often a pull to have great ideas all day everyday. Creativity is the job. Here are some observations that have helped me in the past when I’ve been trying to stumbling:

Step 1: DEFINE Your Goal

Why are you trying to be more creative? What’s your objective? There are a lot of ways to answer this question. If you can ask and answer “why” at every step, the next step often becomes pretty clear. Your goal may just be to have fun or just to wander through your imagination or memories. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” Ernest Hemingway. Expanding your view of what a goal can be can help you set and keep new goals.

Tweet: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end,” Ernest Hemingway via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/8udP3+

Step 2: QUESTION Assumptions

Write out all of your assumptions about your goal. Then question them. Is it true that this can’t be done? Challenge your notions about what the “best” way is, what you “shouldn’t” do to get there, and what you’re willing to do. Assumptions include ideas like “it’s too hard.” Is it really that hard? How do you know? And if anything is really that difficult, what are the steps that you can make it easier?

Another common assumptions are the the thoughts of others. We can’t read minds, can’t assume others think like us, don’t know others interests, future actions, or intentions. When others do share their opinions, handling criticism with a positive attitude is key for growth. Learning to actively seek criticism helps us to be open to new ideas.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in,” Isaac Asimov.  These preconceived notions are often the blocks that prevent us from thinking in more directions.

Tweet this: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world,” Isaac Asimov via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/s01ye+

Step 3: THINK of Stories

There are a lot of great ideas in stories. “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten,” Rudyard Kipling. Think about the best stories in your life, the ones that you keep coming back to. What makes it interesting to you? What’s the best part? Is there a visual twist that you can come up with?

If you’re tackling a particular project, explore your memories or even the internet and see what stories there are about the subject. These are the kinds of questions that interject your point of view, your values of importance, and your personality into your work. Tell your story. That’s part of the essence of creativity. The process of thinking doesn’t have to live in your head, of course. Write it down or draw it out. Don’t be afraid of what you’re writing. That brings us to the next step to good ideas: bad ideas.

Tweet this: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten,” Rudyard Kipling via @sketchee http://ctt.ec/cT9ls+

Step 4: IMAGINE the Bad Ideas

Part of the key may be that those who are seemingly “genius” just let themselves have a lot of ideas.  They create without judging the value of their creations too soon. As the romance novelist Nora Roberts said “You can fix anything but a blank page.” Get something down in some form and then edit it. Quantity can win over quality as part of the process.

If I’m working on a magazine design or a painting, the biggest trick to coming up with something that I like is to just make things. For a magazine, I like to just have a seperate InDesign document called “ideas” so I know it’s not the final draft and just make tons of bad pages that might have one idea that I can use. The point is to do it at a place so rough that it’s fun. Make shapes, place things, play with the composition. While breaks are necessary, waiting for inspiration is not.

Tweet this: As Nora Roberts said “You can fix anything but a blank page.” via @sketchee

Step 5: MAKE Fun

Too often, this process is presented as something to add to our never ending to do list. That we “must” create more thumbnails, list all of our thoughts, and keep a sketchbook. What we really need to remember is that scribbling down a sketch and brainstorming is fun! “Life is more fun if you play games,” Roald Dahl. Make a game out of how many ideas you can scribble, even if they are terrible.

Scribbling and making ugly marks until a page is full is a lot of fun and far less pressure. Then take those scribbles into a thumbnail shape to work out the composition. And blow up the thumbnail into a drawing. Translate the drawing into a painting. Each “next step” is less intimidating because the work is done in a safe fun messy no pressure place. If concentrate on just taking just one step further, executing an idea becomes far less intimidating

Tweet this: “Life is more fun if you play games,” Roald Dahl via @sketchee

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What’s a day in the life for an art director like?

What’s a typical day like for an art director? How does that compare to your days as an entry level graphic designer?

Anonymous (via Quora)

Each organization is a little different with its own structure and culture. I work with a project manager and editor on most projects. We meet the understand the needs of each client, the audience for the publication, and the specifics. For example, a photographer will be hired to shoot a cover and story.

Every project varies for us too. Different clients have their own levels of involvement. Usually with enough notes, so I’m often left to develop my ideas on my own. I use this information to decide basic ad and editorial placements, the order of the overall book. Ad designers and usually seek advice from our more experienced creative director. The creative director balance all of the projects within our company. If the schedule dictates, I’ll seek assistance from other art directors on our team. I may even be balances several projects at various stages at once.

In contrast to my days as an entry level ad designer, I now get to have a lot more creative control. At this point in my career, I decide what works for me with less oversight. While I’m still provided with a lot of information, as a newer designer the content had more direction on how it had to be presented. Now I makes more of the directions. This means less time actually designing pages, yet when in making mode I am implementing more of own solution and vision.

Tweet this post: “What’s a typical day like for an art director?” @sketchee answers #design questions http://ctt.ec/5FcWa+

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What are the most common graphic design mistakes?

Commercial design, as creative as the field is at its best, is about business as much as any other job. We have a reputation to uphold with clients, coworkers, and employees. While design itself is often subjective, addressing the most universal business concerns will get more people on board with your visuals. What are some of the most common mistakes made by working graphic designers?

The biggest error we make is to choose style over substance. Yes, we’re artists and ultimately really want to be able to make clean and cool designs. That is at the heart of our goal and we are trusted to make that happen in any circumstance.

When the client doesn’t like our initial idea, we ask respectful questions to understand their point of view and do our best to make it work. We kindly explain some of the basic thought behind our design decisions: white space helped this page look less cramped, the muted colors were chosen as not to distract from the quality photography, etc. Present yourself as a problem solver and at the same time acknowledge that these aren’t the only solutions to these problems. The visual communication tools we rely on may not be the biggest concerns of your client or their audience.

We can take the role to inform others about how design can be a useful tool for their business and bottom line. To be able to do this, we have to listen more than we speak. How can we propose solutions if we don’t listen to the other person’s problems? If we hear that this person is very concerned about their event deadline and respond with color and negative space, how are they going to feel taken care of? In that example, we might mention how discussing the basic design goals is the next step to move forward. Frame your goals in sincere terms of how it helps them.

Other practical mistakes that you can look out for are the basic specs of each job. These are the types of things that can save you and your associates money and build a better reputation. Check for low resolution images, exacting consistency (spacing, type size, typefaces), bleeds. If any of these issues require intervention from the client or colleagues be a neutral messenger explaining why this is an issue, the consequences of not addressing it, and clear next steps for them or you to follow.

Learn when and how to say no when you firmly believe anything doesn’t work and kindly provide a proposed solution. On the other side of the spectrum, practice accepting the word no from others when other solutions than yours are possible even if they are less desirable. If you’re not sure how to handle a situation, seek out advice. Build time in your schedule from the beginning for everyone involved to be able to review and resolve any issues. You don’t know what will go wrong, however something will and you’ll want to create time to fix it from the very beginning.

Any sane professional will want to support a colleague who prizes manners and etiquette. Even the less sane professionals will appreciate being treated as if they are sane.

Tweet this post: “Any sane professional will support a colleague who prizes manners and etiquette.” @sketchee on #designer errors http://ctt.ec/bZQ7y+

Readers, what designer mistakes have you encountered?

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.