If you’re used to a collaborative process, then quarantine has likely been difficult. A Zoom conference call is great for staying in touch, but tends to be a bit slower than working out visual and creative challenges in person. Some of us feed off the experience of defending our ideas, or making suggestions and improvements to the ideas of others. When it’s just you and a sketchpad, those activities are noticeably missing. So, how do we try to keep things fresh? One of the most effective activities we’ve found is to challenge our own thinking. Everyone is strained and stressed right now, so constructive criticism is hard to give and receive. That means it’s up to each of us to be our own critics and evaluate whether or not an idea is up to par as well as how it could be stronger.

// One approach is to take on the personality of someone else you know. It can be a family member, your least favorite college professor, your best friend, or even your worst enemy. Put your work up to their scrutiny [or your perception of it] and see what you learn. Nothing feels better than proving someone wrong or knowing you exceeded lofty expectations. If your work stands up to multiple viewpoints, the more likely it is to have deeper meaning with external audiences.

// Another way to think more broadly even in isolation is to apply your skills in seemingly unrelated directions. As designers and brand builders, we can sometimes get overly focused on the piece. One way we break out of that thinking is to take something completely unrelated and ask ourselves “How would we make an ad campaign for that?” It might be a product we see at the store, or it might be a scene in nature, or a meal we’ve cooked. Stretching the mind in a new way always reveals new perspectives.

// When more direct methods prove ineffective, or we really are “just stuck,” we tap into the tremendous power of simply walking away. Just like you sometimes have to reset a stuck wifi connection, brains and imaginations need to be reset from time to time as well. Meditation works great. So does exercise. But truthfully, anything that gives your senses a total change of scenery is appropriate. Do not get caught in the trap that perusing some social media is as therapeutic as time away from a computer when it comes to giving your brain a break. It is usually much more productive to do something that engages your brain differently than doing something mindless.

Most importantly, take time for you. With everyone working from home these days, the regimented, reliable schedule of the workday tends to spill over into family time or free time. At first, you feel accomplished and motivated… but keep it up and you’re on the fast track to getting burned out. Allowing yourself to be the kind of person who experiences the world beyond your desk is what keeps the creative fires burning.