a creative smiles while removing her over-the-ear headphones

Do You Have a Creative Ritual Yet? Here’s How to Find It

You may be a creative professional, but that doesn’t mean you’re just a creativity widget that can be cranked every time you need a new idea. You need habits and routines that feed your creativity, to keep up your energy and inspiration during the design process. It’s especially important for those of us who make a living through some form of creativity because when your inspiration is gone, your ability to grow as a designer is pretty limited. This might translate into a loss of fulfillment at work and a stagnated income, among other super fun things.

That’s not to say that you HAVE to have a creative ritual if you want to make it as a designer…it’s just a pretty good idea that will keep you in this game for the long haul.

Why Does a Creative Routine Even Matter?

Creativity is something that many of us take for granted—until that moment it disappears. You run out of ideas, everything you make seems boring and lame, and you just want to get through the gig so you can be done with it.

person sits and ponders a design at a table in a coffee shop

A creative ritual is based on the power of habit. Creativity is in large part inspiration, but it’s built on a foundation of habits and routines that free up brain power to focus on creative ideas rather than making decisions here and there. When you’ve got a creative ritual in place, you can lean on that to get your mind in the right mood for whatever creative activity you’re about to do. It’s an actual “no-brainer” that puts your thinker on autopilot and signals your creative mind to get ready to work.

What I’ve found about my own creative rituals is that they strip my “emotional decider” of any decision-making power. If I need to get some creative work done but I’m feeling scattered or full of dread, I know that the first thing I need to do is take a deep breath. Then I pick up my composition book and favorite pen (no substitutes!) and stretch out on my favorite rug. This is what I do when it’s time to work, and it’s all my brain needs to know when it’s time to do some brainstorming, outlining, sketching, or whatever else needs to be done. My goal is to empty my head of all my ideas—even the ones that stink—so that there’s room for more to show up.

empty lined notebook with a pen next to a coffee mug on a green place

Many times, creative routines are built into your work environment and work routines—even something as simple as wrapping your hands around a hot cup of peppermint tea can be a creative ritual when it’s time to start sketching wireframes or pairing fonts.

Elements of a Creative Ritual

There’s no right or wrong creative ritual. The most important aspect is that you do it.

That said, there are some things that tend to be consistent about creative rituals. Here are just a few:

They Invoke Many, if not all, Senses.

Whether it’s Beethoven splashing water all over his home or Hemingway sharpening 7 pencils before beginning to write, there’s more than one sense being put to use during a creative ritual. Just think: the physical aspect of hefting water and the satisfying crash of the sploshing, or the feel of the pencil and the smell of the wood shavings and graphite dust. How can you incorporate an extra sense into your own creative ritual?


They Develop Over Time.

Very rarely do you go from having zero habits and rituals to having a fully formed creative routine that works for you, overnight. Instead, finding your ritual is a process of trying something, adding something, rearranging the order or things, or just scrapping it all and doing something completely new. You may have an idea of what works for you already.

They Eliminate Distractions and Fluff.

The best creative rituals whittle away the distractions until it’s just you, your chosen tools, and your creativity. Close out your email and turn off your notifications, pick up some noise-canceling headphones, and forget the to-do list. Maya Angelou only wrote in small motel rooms, and maybe you only sketch on pink paper. Create a space and time for you to simply be a creative entity (as much as possible).

They’re Done Consistently.

The power of the creative ritual lies in the power of habit. Because of that, your routine will only be effective if you work it regularly. You might not need (or want) to follow it every single day, but the more you do, the stronger it will be and the more it will work for you.

They Serve a Purpose.

You get to decide how and when to use a creative ritual. Do you want something that helps you get energized and ready for a new day? Is yours something you want to use to turn yourself into an idea machine for when you sit down to work? Or do you want to have a go-to routine to use when it’s time to start sketching wireframes? Every designer has a different purpose for their creative ritual—as you experiment with yours, keep the endgame in mind.

a computer desktop sits in a white office

Some Ideas for Your Creative Ritual

So what are some things you can do to experiment with a new creative ritual? The possibilities really are endless.

  • Incorporate an additional sense. My favorite: smell. Scents are evocative, and they’re powerful triggers for mood and memory. Scent is a great tool for building a creative routine.
  • Be comfortable. Don’t let yourself get too cold or hot. If you sit all day, try kicking off your creative ritual with some movement like a yoga sequence or a one-song dance party.
  • Go outside. Nature is not only a boundless source of inspiration, but being outside in the sun is good for both your physical and mental health. A quick walk outside, even if just around the block, is an excellent creativity tool, especially if you’re in a funk. Just ask any baby—babies love being outside and looking out windows, even fussy babies.
  • Try silence. Even if you think you’re a music person, give silence a real shot. I am totally a music person, but I found that when I’m trying to be creative, I get better results in silence. Turn the radio down, silence your phone, and bring in some noise-canceling headphones playing brown noise if necessary.

What are some elements in your own creative ritual?

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