After working on Design Instruct as its editor for the last 6 years and being a creative professional myself, I can say that there has been no shortage of life lessons and insights along the way.


Here, I’ll share some of my observations about myself and what I’ve seen in others about the common things that get in the way of our productivity and creativity.

1.) You Focus on What You Don’t Have

Your computer isn’t powerful enough. You don’t have the right gear. You don’t have enough money. You don’t have the time. You don’t know the right people. You don’t have the skills/talent/knowledge/etc.

All of these “things,” while they might matter to some degree, don’t matter as much as you think they do, at least as it pertains to being creative. These things have nothing to do with your ability to come up with new ideas and figuring out ways to make your ideas work. All this worrying about what you don’t have only adds to the daily anxieties and pressures we put on ourselves.

Will having the latest and greatest things help you? I won’t say no because maybe they will. However, there is still no guarantee. You still need to do the work. You still need to get out there and fight and sweat and bleed. In other words, blowing your savings on the most powerful computer on the market won’t certainly make you a better creative. It will, however, certainly make you a person with no savings.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, work on getting something done with the things you do have. You might actually surprise yourself with how much you’re able to do.

2) You Allow Distractions to Take Over

Distractions are a fact of life. There will always be something competing for our attention; easier things; more pleasurable things. And while I understand that maybe your first instincts might be to just live in a quiet, colorless, and lifeless grey room in order to get away from these distractions, I’ve learned that such measures aren’t exactly necessary.

In my experience, distractions can actually be great. They allow us to get swept away and can help inspire us and nudge us towards a new patterns of thinking about the difficult things in our work. That is, until we allow these distractions to take over, in which case, we fail at being creative and instead, descend into unfocused, unproductive thinking. Also known as: procrastination.

The key to mastering distractions is not by shutting them out completely but rather by carefully choosing the things we let distract us and putting limits on them (i.e. time limits, deadlines) so that our distractions nurture our creativity instead of taking over completely.

Tim Urban’s Ted Talk on Procrastination is especially enlightening.

3) You Use Methods That Don’t Work for You

We’re all a little different. What works for others might not always work for you.

For instance, I realized that my mind starts to really get going once the sun goes down. I am most creative just as it starts to get dark outside. That’s when I start to really come alive and that’s when I do the work that needs a lot of mental energy. I wake up early and work on emails and administrative duties during the day (i.e. the tedious and boring stuff) when I am mostly powered by caffeine. But that’s me. That works for me. That may not work for you. It has taken me a long time and a lot of work to figure out my own patterns.

Maximizing your creative potential means paying attention to what works for you and what doesn’t work for you personally. No one can tell you how to get your work done other than yourself. Now, the real challenge here is how honest you can actually be with yourself.

Maybe you’ve gotten into the habit of having loud music playing but what if the music is actually just distracting you from doing good work? Perhaps working in busy cafes is only providing you with the illusion that you are busy yourself but you don’t actually get any work done. Maybe that self-help book you’ve been reading doesn’t really help.

Observe the way you work and exploit your patterns and idiosyncrasies when you can. Only you can know absolutely what will work for you.

4) You Want Perfection

Perfection isn’t real. Let’s just be clear on that. This is not a new concept.

There’s never a perfect time. There will never be the perfect client. You will never have a perfect project. Indeed, perfection is just an excuse you tell yourself to let yourself off the hook. That is, if you can’t do something perfectly, might as well not do it at all.

However, instead of perfection, what we do have are opportunities. We have chances to make or do something good. We have moments to seize.

Once you stop thinking that perfection is one of those things that can happen, you’ll be surprised at how productive and creative you can be.

The thing to realize about perfection is that it is, by its very nature, a limit. Perfection is bound to an idea; limited by what we think or envision to be perfect. Letting go of the idea of perfection allows you to just focus on doing something good… without any limits.

This means that you now have no excuse not to do something. You have every reason to work on making something good.

5) You Compare Yourself With Other Artists Too Much

Admiring the work of your peers is a good thing. Especially when they inspire you and motivate you to work harder and better. However, when you start comparing yourself to others, it can be paralyzing.

Suddenly, you’re not admiring others’ work anymore, you’re just seeing what you haven’t done and what you haven’t achieved. This can make being a creative a daunting proposition. Especially when you consider the tremendous work being done by creatives all over the world. Trying to operate on someone else’s level can seem almost impossible and unattainable in some cases and can demoralize and demotivate you to make something good yourself.

Realize that everyone’s journey will be different. Other people’s achievements are theirs and no one else’s. Just as yours are your own.

Focus on what you want to achieve and work on that first. Chasing someone else’s success and achievements means that you won’t be chasing after your own.

Final Thoughts

Being a creative professional is a courageous endeavor. Not everyone will understand your work. Success is not guaranteed. The level of effort you put in is not always consistent with the rewards you are able to reap. However, when things are good, being a creative professional can be one of the most rewarding experiences one can have.

Hopefully, this article has helped you avoid some common pitfalls we’ve encountered and observed with being a creative.

Tell us what you think in the comments below!




Isaac is the Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Design Instruct. He has experience in various design and art related fields including design, illustration, and photography. He's in charge of making sure that Design Instruct publishes high quality content that professional designers and digital artists demand and expect. Get in touch via email and on Twitter as @designinstruct or @IAMTHEGUBE.