L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

Alex Huntly

Do you sometimes struggle with creative roadblocks? Do you find it difficult to get all your ideas down on paper? You might sketch a couple of ideas before you stop and think “I’m going nowhere.”

I know this happens to a lot of creatives, it happens to me too. Here’s a simple technique I regularly use to help me with my creative process.

25 minutes of work, 5 minute break

Set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes. Agree that you will spend this chunk of time focusing on your work. For me that’s sketching out as many ideas as possible.

Avoid all distractions. This is a very similar process to focus blocks. Leave your inboxes alone, mute your phone and focus.

Your first draft doesn’t have to look good, it just need to make sense to you when you review it later.

For my designs I’ll see how many ideas I can sketch in the 25 minutes. The more ideas the better.

I aim to make each idea as distinct from one another as possible. I like to have as much to go on as I can. I’m not focusing on how pretty they are, that comes later.

When your time is up, take a break. Walk around your space, make yourself a hot drink, whatever you can just make sure you get up from your desk and leave the space for 5 minutes. This helps define your desk as where you work.

I like to make myself a cup of tea and maybe scroll through Twitter for 5 minutes. I’ll set a five minute timer to ensure I don’t get lost in the infinite scrolling. This is done on my phone and away from my desk, separating my work from my leisure.

Reward yourself, enjoy the break from your work.

When your 5 minutes is up, go back to your workspace. I’ll have my tea in hand and I’ll be spending the next 25 minute burst reviewing my initial designs. I’ll make notes with a coloured pen on each design; what works about this design? What can be improved here?

Take the full 25 minutes to review your ideas. If you’ve reviewed all of them and still have time, sketch some more ideas.

When the next 25 minutes is up, take another 5 minute break. This time I might read an article or watch a video. Reward yourself, enjoy the break from your work.

If you need to, repeat the process. If you think you can hone the ideas further, go for it. Set another 25 minute timer and get to work. Make sure you stick to the 25 minutes.

Once you think you’ve got all the initial ideas down, put them away and leave them alone for at least a few hours, ideally a day or two.
You’ve got the ideas down, you’ve done all you could at this point, you need to take a long break from them.

I’ve found that limitations often allow me to create my best work.

This may seem odd but this gap between designing and reviewing gives you the opportunity to reset and come back to review your work with fresh eyes. Limiting yourself to these time bursts creates restraint and encourages you to focus on getting the work done.

I’ve found that limitations often allow me to create my best work. Setting this limitation ensures I’m respecting the time available. If I only have 25 minutes I need to make that time count.

I’ll come back to my sketches a day or two later and review them. I’ll be looking at my work with fresh eyes, reviewing my notes and seeing my thought process. New ideas might come to me, I may prefer one design over another or what was once a terrible design may start to look good to me now.

I’ve found this time technique works best for the beginnings of a project or piece of work. This limitation acts as a motivator helping you get the ideas going. They may be terrible at first, but I’m not dwelling on that. I’m getting the ideas down at this point.

Keep experimenting, find your rhythm and discover what works for you.

What Time Are You At Your Most Productive?

I don’t use this technique all day. I tend to keep it to the morning, that’s when I’m at my most productive. I use my afternoons for meetings, responding to emails, reviewing work, and other tasks that need consideration.
Typically I’ll be able to squeeze in between 3–4 of these sessions in my morning.

In one morning, I was able to write down the first draft to six individual articles. Some of them were awful and need more work, but others started flowing immediately. Appreciate those moments when the ideas flow easily, they might be more infrequent than you think.

25 minutes may not seem like a lot but I’ve discovered I can achieve a lot done in that short space of time.

I don’t expect every burst to be smooth, we all have good and bad days. The 25 minutes remains a constant in my fluctuating work life, it’s an immovable event that gives me the freedom to dedicate all my attention to the work I love doing.

Try it and let me know how you get on

Make It Your Own

Keep experimenting, find your rhythm and discover what works for you. I found these 25 minute bursts work well for me.

If you try this a few times, you may think you need to extend that 25 minute timeframe. Try it, see if your schedule works better with a longer burst. You may extend it to an hour. Don’t be too generous with the amount of time, your brain can only cope with intense focused work for so long. Know your limits.

You may take this idea and make it your own. Try it and let me know how you get on. Message me on Twitter @alexhuntly_ to let me know how you did and give this article a like if you found it helpful.

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