When you want to build muscle, you lift weights. Want to get faster? Run sprints. Want to increase your flexibility? Stretch. Want to get more creative? Same idea. The best way to get those juices flowing is with some good, old-fashioned creativity exercises.
Creativity is a muscle. And, like any muscle, it needs exercise. If you’re struggling to connect with your muse, consider this new workout plan.
Whether you’re stumped on how to design your new logo, need inspiration for your next series of paintings, or have to work through your writer’s block, we’ve got 10 creativity exercises designed to target your core artistic muscles.
1. Schedule a block of free creative time
You’re not always in control of when creativity strikes. And when you put parameters on creativity—like “I have to design a logo for this client in the next three hours”—the added pressure can make it hard to get inspired.
Try scheduling time just to be creative. Think of it as your creative “free gym” time. By setting aside a chunk of time where you’re free to create without any expectations, deadlines or client work, you take some pressure off and allow space for creativity to strike in new ways.
Set aside a few hours every week to explore your creativity without any parameters. And don’t feel like you have to keep things design-focused—anything creative goes. You could spend time doodling in a notebook or sketching out a new illustration. Step outside your creativity comfort zone, too. Play music. Take a movement class. Write a stand-up routine. Do whatever you can to let loose and be creative without any barriers or expectations.
Taking the stress and anxiety off your creative muscle can be just what it needs to get back in action when you’re feeling uninspired.
2. Set a creativity timer
Sometimes, strict boundaries can stifle creativity. But other times, they can actually spark creativity.
Set a timer for five to ten minutes, and challenge yourself to create something—a design sketch, a small painting, a poem, a new idea, you name it. The tight deadline can help you find new and interesting ways to develop your art.
It’s like seeing how many squats you can do in a minute. As you see that clock ticking down, you’ll push yourself harder and, in this case, you’ll be more creative.
3. Go for quantity over quality
In the gym, you always want to go for quality over quantity. It’s great if you can do 100 sit-ups, but if you don’t have the right form, you’re not going to see results.
But with design, the opposite can be true. Sometimes going for quantity over quality is exactly what you need to get the creative juices flowing.
When you’re working on a single design, it’s easy to get caught up in the quest for perfection, which can put a serious damper on creativity. Who can think of new, innovative ideas when they’re stressing over what line thickness looks best?
If this is your struggle, try the 30 Circles Exercise. Draw 30 identical circles on a sheet of paper, and set a timer for three minutes. Fill in as many circles as possible in the three minute window. In other words, focus on quantity, not quality.
Now adapt this approach to your creative work. Stumped on a logo design project? Try sketching out 30 logo ideas in the three minute time-frame.
Don’t know what palette to use for your new branding project? Experiment with 30 new and unique color combinations.
Just feeling generally stumped? Draw 30 monsters. Or 30 snowflake patterns. Or 30 anything to help find some creative inspiration.
Since you don’t have time to agonize over every creative decision, you’re forced to just pump out ideas. Will they all be game changers? Of course not. But your creative muscle will get a ton of reps in. And you’ll have at least a few clever ideas you can build on.
4. Become an idea machine
If you’re a runner, your main exercise will be running. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to throw other types of fitness into the mix—like interval training, weightlifting or yoga. Those complimentary exercises aren’t just a way to mix up your fitness routine. They’ll actually make you a better runner by making your faster, stronger and more agile.
Same goes for design. Work your creative muscle with artistic exercises, but if you want to be your most creative, switch things up and throw different kinds of exercises into the mix.
One exercise that’s going to give you some serious bang for your buck? Becoming an idea machine.
Have different topics each day. They might be related to work—like “10 design tools that haven’t been invented yet” or “10 ways to find new clients”. Or something completely unrelated—like “10 ideas for next summer’s big blockbuster” or “10 technologies that could give dogs the ability to speak.
Just come up with ten original ideas—no ifs, ands, or buts.
You won’t use most of these ideas, but that’s not the point. You’ll make new connections, start thinking outside of the box, and give your creativity a chance to shine in a new way.
5. Draw or design the same thing every day
At the gym, reps breed results. Doing the same exercises over and over again makes you strong, and let’s be real, get you the kind of body that puts Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther to shame.
You might not think the same thing would be true with design, but repeating the same designs over and over can actually work wonders for your creative muscles.
Set aside time to draw or design the same thing every single day—whether it’s your dog, your logo, or your favorite cartoon character. You’ll have to find new ways to make your design interesting and different (if you don’t want to die of boredom), and you’ll discover new methods and inspiration you can bring to your work.
Get the most out of this exercise by mixing things up with free-hand drawing and computer design. The more different mediums you use, the more creative bang for your buck you’ll get.
6. Get out of your office and into the world
Treadmills are awesome, but sometimes you need to get outside and take a run through the park. And while your office might be a great place to work, it’s hard to find creative inspiration sitting at your desk, staring at your computer screen. If you’re feeling uninspired, you need to get up and go. Like, right now.
And that can be anywhere. The local shopping district (great people watching!), an outdoor concert, a park, your backyard. Whatever works for you.
In fact, some of the world’s most creative masterpieces are direct results of creators getting out and exploring the world around them. The Legend of Zelda was inspired by creator (and video game legend) Shigeru Miyamoto’s time exploring the forests and caves near his home in Sonobe, Japan. Walt Disney Studios not only built an on-site zoo, but they also sent animators on regular field trips to the Los Angeles Zoo or San Diego Zoo to observe the animals and get inspired for their drawings.
A change of scenery can spark your creativity, reignite your passion, and bring new inspiration to your designs. Anytime you’re feeling uninspired, make it a point to get out of your office and into the world.
7. Look at something familiar in a new way
Jogging on the treadmill for 30 minutes everyday will eventually make you bored. But if you find new ways to use the treadmill—like switching up the incline to work your glutes or doing sprint intervals—all of a sudden, you’re excited about your workouts again.
You can do the same thing with your creativity!
Try the Alternative Uses Test, developed by JP Guilford in the late 1960s, by choosing something familiar that you use everyday (in the original test, people used a paper clip). Then, for two minutes, think of as many new uses for it as possible.
(I actually did the paperclip test myself, and I came up with keychain, zipper fastener, and balloon popper, which I realize might be a bit of a cop out. All that from an object that typically collects dust in my desk drawer.)
This exercise encourages divergent thinking, which helps you develop your ability to think outside of the box and become a creativity powerhouse.
8. Explore the bookstore
Just like learning a new move in the gym can inspire your workouts, learning something new can do wonders for your creativity. And the best place to learn something new? The bookstore, of course!
Take a field trip to the bookstore (or the library), and explore a section completely unrelated to what you do. Pick up a book and read about something completely out of your realm of understanding.
If you’re a designer, you might pick up a book about equine therapy, the history of New Wave music, or fashion.
Expose yourself to new information to challenge your brain and get the creative juices flowing. Plus, you’ll have all sorts of great trivia for your next cocktail party!
Sometimes, the simplest things are the most challenging. That’s true in the gym (have you ever tried to do a perfect squat?) and it’s true in design.
Challenge yourself to design something using as few design elements as possible. What can you create using only round shapes? Or lines? Or a two-color palette?
Simplifying will force you to examine how to use each element effectively, which can help you invent new ways to incorporate each element into your designs.
10. Freewrite your way to creativity
We get it. You’re a designer, not a writer. But that doesn’t mean writing can’t help you unlock your creativity.
Freewriting is exactly what it sounds like—just sit down and write. Instead of thinking about what you’re putting down on the paper, just write whatever comes to mind, totally raw and unfiltered.
So, just set a timer and write until it goes off. Letting your thoughts flow straight from your head can help you clear out unnecessary thoughts or worries and make more room for creativity. Plus, who knows, you might find your next creative endeavor hidden in the pages of your freewriting!
Start your creativity workout routine!
We all have days when it’s hard to find creative inspiration (or inspiration to go to the gym, for that matter). But with this creativity workout routine, you’ve got everything you need to work that creative muscle and get inspired!