Graphic design is no easy job - sometimes you burn out, struggle to maintain focus, or go days, weeks, or months feeling uninspired. Even those designers you look up to, who are at the very height of their career, have periods where they lose motivation.

The thing is - if you are in graphic design for the long haul, it is vital to develop healthy patterns to keep you creative (and sane). For this reason, we have gathered a list of 9 design micro-habits that will change the way you work and and get you on the path to success!

1. Keep yourself organised and economise time

Whether you have masses of fonts, bundles, or design packs, organisation is key. Knowing exactly where everything is on your computer or tablet can save you hours of precious time and diminish your likelihood of stress. When you are on a time crunch, the last thing you want to do is spend your first 10 minutes on a project searching for an illustration file. To help you out, we have prepared a few guides to give you tips on how to manage your fonts and bundle assets!

One proven time-saver is using mockups for your designs. Whether you are creating for a skincare brand or generating your own portfolio, these are a must. And while you may think using them is taking the easy way out, we encourage you to think about how much time they are freeing up in your day to do what you do best - design!

Another invaluable way to save time is through refining your process. Although each project of yours will be unique, you can still devise a workflow to easily repeat time and again. If you work for yourself, doing this will keep you to a timeframe and shave down on time spent on the project, and if you work with clients, this will also allow you to set clear expectations and communicate more efficiently. Your process does not have to be too elaborate - it can be as straightforward as outlining 5 general steps that you know work for you.

2. Dedicate time away from social media

We all know social media is designed to be a black hole, sucking us in for hours of scrolling and entertainment. It can lead us to believe that everyone else has their stuff together (whether that be their process, style, etc.) and that we are imposters.

If you have made a resolution to stay off of social media, this is your sign to keep it! Like all things in life, maintain a healthy balance. Social media is designed to be addictive, with more time on it linked to anxiety and depression, so try to take a break from it when you can. This can mean not looking at your phone until you sit at your desk, not bringing it to the bed or even to your bedroom, or limiting your use to a specified amount of time a day (Instagram lets you set an alarm to notify you when you pass your allotted time).

If you do find yourself on social media more often than you would like, or social media is part of your job, we urge you to keep a few things in mind:

  • Try not to compare your day 1 to their year 4. You would not look at a runner who has been practicing for years and expect to be on their level on your first run, so why do you do it as a designer?
  • Use these platforms in your favor. One of the brilliant things that social media has brought is community. If you are going to be perusing, you might as well be growing or joining a community of like-minded creatives, who will uplift you and improve your work.

3. Keep your workspace clean

It has been well documented that the bigger the mess, the bigger the stress. Just looking at a messy desk when you start your morning can be panic inducing, but a clean desk can boost your efficiency and motivation throughout the day. Decluttering can free up your mind and make space for creativity and innovation. So be proactive instead of reactive and you will notice that even something as simple as cleaning your workspace can give you a sense of satisfaction! And if you have an off day and that is all you manage to accomplish, at the very least you will have ticked something productive off your list.

4. Challenge yourself to try something new

Some of the happiest people we encounter live by the mantra that we learn something different every day, no matter how small.  Whether it is new styles, techniques, or ways of working, there is incredible value in trying something new. Not only do we get a sense of satisfaction from stepping out of our comfort zone, but we also open a door to endless possibilities. We suggest taking up a Skillshare course or subscribing to your favorite designer’s Patreon, reading a book on design, finding a mentor, or experimenting with a technique that you have wanted to try.

5. Do not wait until you are inspired to create

You have probably heard this one before, but you are about to hear it again. Inspiration is amazing; when it strikes, it is euphoric. You feel unstoppable. But the thing about inspiration is that it is unreliable and fleeting, and the biggest consistency killer. If you wait until it strikes, you could be waiting a very long time indeed.

This is why it is important to value consistency over inspiration. It may sound unromantic, but scheduling out time to work, sketch, brainstorm, whatever it is, can do wonders to your creativity. You may find that as unmotivated as you are, you might produce your best work ever. And if you do not, at the very least you will have learned to practice one of the hardest skills - diligence.

6. Make it a habit to develop habits

On that note, let us discuss habits. In the same way that you are who you surround yourself with or what you eat, you too are your habits. You are what you choose to spend time doing. Good habits can help you reach your goals and act as a substitute for motivation when you lack it, and bad ones can set you up for a lifetime of burnouts and stress.

We suggest you examine your day to day life and make note of what habits you could implement to benefit your mental health. If you look after yourself, your work will likely flourish. Healthy habits could look like: drinking water periodically, exercising for 30 minutes, creating something - no matter how small - every day, meditating, stretching your legs during your lunch break, or establishing a morning routine. Only you know what will work for you, but we promise that you will not regret prioritising yourself with healthy habits.

7. Set SMART goals the night before

You could say that this is a habit in itself, but we think it is important enough to mention on its own. Goals are a great way to structure your day, giving you the satisfaction of ticking an item off your to-do list every time you accomplish one. They help make you organised and proactive, keeping you to a timeframe and ensuring you prioritize the work that needs to get done.

So that you do not wake up groggy and disgruntled, we recommend:

  • You set goals the night before. This way, you can wake up refreshed and with a clear idea of the day ahead.
  • You make them SMART. S for Specific, M for Measurable, A for Attainable, R for Relevant, and T for Time-based. Sticking with this criteria will enable you to focus your efforts and increase the chances of accomplishing your goals.

8. Celebrate the victories and slow down

It is no secret that our society values productiveness. Many of us often complain about having to work a 12+ hour day or pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment, when in reality we just want to signal to others how busy or important we are. It is only natural; it has been ingrained in us, but it should not excuse us from taking active steps to combat it.

Instead of glorifying how busy our day has been, we should be valuing slowing down and taking stock of what truly matters in our lives. And that means not only appreciating those we love, but celebrating ourselves and our successes. Next time you find yourself wrapping up a project or keeping up a habit for a full month, try to consciously acknowledge it. Give yourself a pat on the back and space to contemplate that milestone, no matter how big or small. And if you have the means, cook yourself a dinner, call your friends, have a glass of wine - do whatever it is that brings you joy. Life is better when you appreciate how awesome you are!

9. Watch DC hangouts and listen to Honest Designers episodes

As a last note, we encourage you to check our our Learn Section, which includes hundreds of articles (like this one) and video/written tutorials about anything design related. If you are feeling up for it, you can learn about creating brushes in Procreate, pairing fonts together, designing product packaging, and so much more. We truly believe in the value that it provides to our community, so if you are ever in a design funk this is the place to be!

And if you are looking to listen to our favourite design podcast, you can explore all episodes of the Honest Designers featuring the talented Ian Barnard, Lisa Glanz, Dustin Lee, and our very own Tom Ross. As 4 creatives deeply entrenched in the design world, they chat all about how to charge more for your work, build a good reputation, launch design courses, and so much more. We hope you will take as many golden nuggets of knowledge from them as we do!