5 Creativity Exercises to Conquer Blocks and Burnout

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Creative block is the bane of my existence. Nothing ruins a project like hitting a wall, except maybe burnout, when completing a simple task becomes as challenging as wading through a tar pit.

Having recently completed my master’s thesis, I’ve been feeling a bit mentally frazzled, so I set out in search of some creativity exercises and resources to help me move past these fruitless roadblocks and get my creative juices flowing at their usual rate. And, as always, I thought I’d share my findings.

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Creativity Exercises to Conquer Blocks and Burnout

Play games.

Exercise your imagination by playing any type of game—collaborative games, board games and puzzles are all excellent options. For easy mental games, try creating something with the items on your desk or finding out how many words your can make using the letters in your name. Interactive games and play-based creativity exercises sharpen your creativity and expand your imagination. For a quick-tune up, check out Creative Stuff, an activity book for creative by David Gouveia and Christopher Elkerton.

For a more hands-on game, Stefan Mumaw recommends comedy improv as an extreme workout tool. At HOW Design Live 2014, Mumaw showed attendees the fundamental connection between improv and creativity, diagramming how the essential rules of improv can boost every designer’s creative process while running attendees through comedy improv skits and techniques designed to bring the concepts behind creative training to life. Try taking an improv or acting class to boost your confidence, energy and collaborative skills the next time you’re stuck in a rut.

Carry a sketchbook.

Many designers draw in their spare time, but is your sketchbook always on you? Whether you’re traveling or just on your lunch break, drawing your surroundings can be a great way to get your creative juices flowing. You can also use a sketchbook to draw or jot down spur-of-the moment ideas, take notes or write stories.

For many skilled creatives, sketching helps them get back to the basics. Drawing and sketching are great creativity exercises when you’ve encountered a roadblock. Approach a difficult situation from scratch by sketching it out, or draw something unrelated to clear your mind. Besides, the more you practice drawing, the more your design skills will improve, even if you’re an experienced designer.

Read more.

Reading is wonderful creative tool, regardless of your material. The act of reading exercises your working memory—the part of your memory that processes and stores new information—which means that the more you read, the more information you can retain and the better you’ll retain it. If you’re fond of literature, you can glean some creative inspiration from the mind of your favorite authors. Personally, I find Charles Dickens to be particularly helpful when I’m looking for creative inspiration. An autobiography by one of your favorite creative might help you with some insight as well.

If you’re more of a hands-on person, try D30: Exercises for Designers by Jim Krause or The Graphic Design Exercise Book by Jessica Glaser. Both books are full of tips, tricks and exercises for boosting your creativity.

Learn a new creative skill.

There’s no better way to boost your creativity than acquiring new creative skills or honing your skills with new techniques. Try taking a HOW Design University course to learn a new skill such as responsive web design or typography, or check out Jim Krause’s independent study course D30: Exercises for Designers. Krause has been in the design biz for thirty years, and his independent study course is built around the hands-on extra-curricular art, design and photography activities he regularly enjoys in order to keep his creative world fun, his design skills sharp and his creative instincts relevant and usable. With the creativity exercises in his course, you’ll end up with a nice collection of art pieces by the time you’re finished.

Reflect on your senses.

I have a condition known as auditory synaesthesia, which means that I receive additional sensory input with every sound I hear (sounds have color, texture, depth, etc.). Other synaesthetes have used this involuntary association to create amazing things. For example, Mozart famously told his orchestra to play with “more blue!” Unfortunately, not all of us can use our synaesthesia to compose symphonies, but many creatives experience some form of synaesthesia, and it tends to help with the creative process.

Even if you’re not a synesthete, take a moment to reflect you imagine while listening to music, voices or even white noise. Try designing cover art for your favorite album based on the things you visualize while you’re listening to it. If you hear an interesting sound, think about what that sound would look like if you wanted to draw it or sculpt it. You can also try this with your other senses. What does the scent of a flower look like? What do different textures make you think of? If you could describe the taste of an apple, what color would it be? What shape? What size?


mds_exercisesuc-500We all encounter creative block occasionally, but it’s not difficult to combat it with creativity exercises. For a holistic approach to conquering your creative troubles, check out the Exercises for Designers Ultimate Collection, which includes all of the resources I mentioned above for 65% off their total value. Check it out the Exercises for Designers Ultimate Collection at MyDesignShop.com.

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