As a creative in today’s world – we have access to SO many potential points of inspiration and information – it’s amazing. But, with all of this access, comes the risk of wasting time collecting thoughts instead of designing new ones. Today, my tips for staying inspired, organized and focused that help me create my best work.
I am, by nature, a person who finds inspiration easily. In the arrangement of food, the colors of nature, the texture of surfaces, in the words of a song, or the style of a stranger. I like to collect inspiration daily so that when I’m working on a project, I have easy access to loads of thought starters. I’ve recently refined my process to be more effective and efficient so I can use most of my time building my own ideas vs cataloging other peoples.
1. Research. Daily. Everywhere. And catalog it along the way. I love to read blogs, books, magazines, visit museums, coffee shops, book stores, retail shops and scour the web and social media all searching for beautiful images, words or color combinations. I’ve found that by not limiting myself to any one area, topic or location – I am able to put together patterns and ideas that are a little more unique. I capture my favorite via photograph, swag stealing and online image saving.
2. Draw. Write. Sketch. I can’t go anywhere without a sketchbook or journal to capture notes and thoughts in. I like the physical art of capturing an idea with pen and paper to really get my juices flowing. I carry a pocket size journal in my bag to make sure I can always jot down ideas as they appear!
3. Find your system. #1 is of no use if you don’t have a fail-safe organization system that works just for you! I organize my information in 2 ways:
ONLINE. I use Pinterest exclusively to catalog image + article inspiration. The simple board format makes it easy to save and store images, and I love the secret board feature as a way to only share what I want with the world. An added bonus – you can upload your own images, making it easy to keep what I see IRL in the same place as what I see digitally.
OFFLINE. I use clear colored folders to organize all things paper that inspire me…from menus, to magazine swipe, to stickers and business cards. I always carry 1 or 2 in my bag, especially when I travel so I can collect mementos along the way without creating clutter.
4. Name your folders in the way that works for YOU. My brain tends to remember things in 2 buckets and I organize my images across digital + folders accordingly.
WHERE. I can remember where I was when I had an inspiring interaction. Thus, I organize my photos by city/location. This way, I’m able to recall The Conran Shop gift table as a colorful, tabletop inspiration and go to my December London photo file to track it down when I’m ready to use it.
WHAT. I am also easily able to draw to mind an image and recall what it was that struck me about it. Things like color, materials, shop, interior design, party hosting, project inspiration or product design. Some of my board names are: to live (interiors inspiration), to color crush on (color combinations that make me happy) and to eat (recipes I want to try.)
As you can see, I keep the topics pretty broad at the folder level. This means my folders / boards can get quite BIG, but I’ve found it’s easier for me to keep everything in once place vs breaking out into too many individual and confusing folders.
5. Merge and purge often. I keep on top of clutter, both in IRL and online, by setting aside some time quarterly to organize my research. I’ll dedicate a few hours to scan everything I’ve ripped from magazines or catalogs and upload it to Pinterest to have a one-stop hub of inspiration. I’ll delete boards I am no longer using, and save just the relevant pins onto new boards for another use in the future. This also ensures that I can remember the images I’ve been collecting since I go through them all quite regularly.
inspiration for days.
6. Edit your inspiration sources. This might seem at odds with #1, but I can get overwhelmed by an endless barrage of inspiration: never-ending Instagram scrolling, blog reading, magazine subscriptions and piles and piles of books to consume. For me, I’ve found, I do better editing my choices to a few must reads / sees each day and then saving the broader community of amazing content out there for a specific search. I have a handful of blogs I check daily, and as I run across new ones, I’ll add them to my Bloglovin’ rollup (more on that later) so I can keep track of them.
7. Know what you’re trying to solve. Before I start a new project, I spend a good amount of time trying to clarify what I’m looking to actually DO in the project. A color palette for an upcoming season? Inspiration on how to style photo laydowns? I then focus my research to JUST that specific topic so I can stay laser focused on solving vs surfing.
8. Create NEW specific project folders. Once you’re ready to start a specific project – I’ve found it’s best to go back through your broad inspiration categories and curate a smaller set of images for that particular purpose. For example, all of my interiors inspiration goes on my to live board on Pinterest. Once I’m working on specific space, say my master bathroom, I’ll create a dedicated board for that space and save JUST the images I want to use as inspiration in design.
9. Online must-haves. Online can be an overwhelming place. So big, so many options. Click, click, click. A few places that keep my organization game in check:
Bloglovin. I use bloglovin’ to organize my endless list of blogs. You can follow as many blogs as you like, and when you ‘love’ a post, it saves to your feed for easy access later.
Pinterest. Pinterest is my jam for organizing all kinds of inspirational content. I take advantage of the secret board feature to store information, project research or ideas I’m not ready to share with the world.
Scannable. I am obsessed with this scanner app for my phone. It allows me to scan an article or page from a magazine or book that’s not mine, and to scan receipts or notes related to a project.
Evernote. I use this on my phone to keep up with notes/receipts related to a project and love how easy it is to access across multiple devices.
Grammarly. For most of my writing, I use this new-to-me grammar checking site. I write all of my initial blog posts, business proposals and project briefs here. I love the format, the ease of use and the catalog of past projects it keeps. OH. And the built in ease of a proofreader at your fingertips? Genius.
10. Offline must haves. As much of a fan as I am of the internet for inspiration, I find there is nothing like a good ole-fashion IRL mood board to get my creative juices flowing. I keep an evolving one at both my work and home offices and update them frequently with images, objects, and trinkets that get my creative juices flowing. I also tend to build project specific mood boards as a visual north star when I’m starting any new undertaking. It forces me to really LOVE an image to commit to printing, cutting and mounting it and helps me to focus, focus, focus on fewer, better images of inspiration.
For my mood boards, I’m a fan of:
T-pins. I like the old school scientific feel of these push pins. They also feel utilitarian and tend to go away, so as not to add any added visual clutter to your board.
Black + white foam core. The simplest and easiest medium for building a board.
Washi tape to add borders. I like to add a touch of whimsy, color or pattern to every board and use washi tape to highlight the most important saying or images on that board for highlighted emphasis.
What are your tips to stay organized as a creative human? I’d love to hear below!
ps. for more organization inspiration, check out my office tools round-up here.