Distractions That Can Dramatically Improve Your Creativity

Mind wandering is often associated with creative ideas. Especially the stereotype of the creative person who seems to constantly daydream.

But that ability also allows your brain to make connections about seemingly unrelated things.

Too often when we’re stuck in our work we reach for the phone and let ourselves go down the rabbit hole of Instagram and YouTube. 

What if by choosing a different distraction we could actually fire up our creativity instead?

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How To Break Free From Distraction

One, or a combination of these five things can actually improve your creative thinking, according to studies. They give your mind a chance to wander freely and tune into your own imagination.

They can also help you develop new habits by consciously choosing distractions that recharge you. Rather than habitually picking up your phone.

Next time you’re stuck on something that requires a fresh perspective or new ideas, think twice before going online.

1. Take a walk

Famous entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg created a routine of walking meetings. 

Taking regular breaks from sitting is critical for both creative thinking and your health. Walking and the time right after improves creative inspiration according to a recent Stanford University study

A short walk, whether it’s outside or even on a treadmill will do wonders to reset and refresh your energy. 

“Fresh Air drives fresh thinking,” says Nilofer Merchant in her 2013 Ted Talk, Got a Meeting? Take a walk. Walking and talking things through with someone else, can lead to an entirely different set of ideas. 

2. Talk it Through with Someone

Brainstorming and hear other points of view, is invaluable in creative work. If you usually work alone that’s something you probably don’t get enough of. It takes real effort to find people to reach out to and bounce ideas off of. 

Co-working spaces often create that environment of collaboration. It’s an rich opportunity to meet people and get different perspectives about your work. Try to find a few different people you can call up and say, “I’m stuck, can we talk this through?”

Bonus points if you can go for a walk with them. It’s a winning combination for your health and your creative inspiration.  

3. Doodle with your opposite hand

This can be a quick break to let your mind wander freely enough to let go of the problem at hand and give you some mental space. 

Each morning before I sit down to write, I close my eyes and doodle random lines and shapes with my other hand.

There are a few benefits I’ve found:

  • It silences my inner critic

  • Confuses my brain

  • Helps get me into a more meditative and relaxed state

Experts say that we can stimulate our right brain by working with the wrong hand. “Our right hemisphere is about this present moment, right here, right now. It thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically, through the movement of our body,” says. Jill Bolte Taylor PhD, and neuroanatomist in her 2014 Ted Talk A Stroke of Insight

Next time you’re stuck, try grabbing a sheet of paper and making easy sketches with your opposite hand when the work isn’t flowing.  


4. Make Sketch-notes

Sketch-noting is a term coined by designer Mike Rohde. It’s a way of capturing key ideas by using a visual vocabulary. Drawing simple objects and icons with written note-taking. One of Mike’s mantras is, “It’s about ideas, not art.”  

The process combines words with visual elements like, lettering, arrows, stick figures and icons to make a map of your ideas, your travels or even client notes. 

Mike’s written two books and workbooks about the method.  And the Sketchnote Army is an entire community you can tap into for inspiration.

Designer Eva-Lotta Lamm walks through the basic Choreography of Sketching in this quick Medium article. Start slowly by adding icons and lettering to your usual text notes. 

A few sketch-note ideas are:

  • What’s on your desk

  • Notes from a client meeting

  • a great meal using photos on your phone

  • Brainstorm your next vacation

This can be a easy and fun diversion that helps you map out key concepts in different ways. Use whatever is around you as a starting point. 

5. Get a Change of Scenery

This one is critical for me. When I need to switch up tasks to start something new I choose different places as a signal to myself that I’m focusing on something different. 

There’s a favorite cafe I go to and order an oat milk chai late (So Bay Area) when I’m taking on online class or am learning a new skill.

If I have to write something and it’s hard to get started, I book a conference room at my co-working space. To clear my head, I write all the tasks that are distracting me on a white board when I settle into the room. 

Just booking that room means I’m sequestering myself away. 

When I need to write something fairly routine I usually move from my office to the dining room table. Or change desks in the co-working space I work from. 

These are simple ways to get a change of scenery. Come up with your own. Eventually they will become unconscious signals that help you shift gears. 


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7 Steps to Writing Client Case Studies that Will Save You Time

A Case Study Checklist to Save You Time

If you’re like most creatives I know, you do amazing work for other people’s businesses while neglecting your own.

If you’re a visual person working in design, branding or photography, the added anxiety of writing about your work can make you scrap the whole project for years. But those success stories attract the clients you want to work with.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way!


Portfolio. Recent work. Client Case Studies.

Whatever you want to call it, next to your About Page, the way you visually show your work is one of the most important parts of your website.

And let’s be honest, this is what people are looking for when they want to hire you. So creating your own template for your case studies will save you a ton of time.

Just imagine, no more cold sweats or stomach getting tied in knots every time you think about talking about your work.

Here is a 7 step process to get you started!

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Putting A Method To The Madness

Like any writing project, there are ways to curb the overwhelm. The most effective one is having a method and process in place that you trust.

One way is to determine exactly what information to put aside in your regular work flow. Then, as you schedule time to work on case studies, you’ll have a checklist and a starting point to plug in the information.

You can take a slow, deep breath. And let the anxiety fade a little.

1. Start at the very beginning

Remember when you sent that proposal to your client? It’s going to come in handy when you’re doing your case studies. In very simple bullet points or short sentences outline what the initial project was.

Write out what the clients goals were and what you wanted to accomplish with the work. You’re thinking through why the client came to you. Usually, it’s very different from what they actually needed.

By the end, this will only be one or two sentences at most. But those sentences need to get to the heart of the work. Think about what the client’s problem was, so you can show how you solved it.



2. How the project changed in the process

In my opinion this is what we miss when we talk about our creative work. Often it’s not a line item in the proposal because no creative project goes according to plan. This is usually where your genius lies.

But how do you write about it?

Jot down some rough sentences about how the direction of the project changed in ways you loved. Think about the places where they took your advice and that lead to the work you enjoy doing. In the end you’ll be able to use a few descriptive words about your strengths that lead to great outcomes.


3. ADD VISUALS - EVERY CASE STUDY NEEDS A STORY

This is the most important part of any designer, photographer or branding pro’s portfolio. It’s also the most overwhelming step in creating case studies.

The idea of collecting before and after screen shots or pulling together photos in the middle of all the other tasks tugging at us can stop people dead in their tracks.

Don’t let this part stop you! Persevere!

Here are some helpful ways:

  • Collect before and after screen shots as you finish each project. Make it a part of your work flow.

  • Save these images in a folder of visual images to through while you’re writing your case studies

  • Bring in the big guns - 2-3 times a year batch case study photography. Don’t have the budget? Do a trade with a photographer friend.


4. OWN YOUR VALUE

No one wants to read a boring case study. And let’s be honest, if you aren’t the hero of your story why would anyone want to hire you?

Not the only one on the project? Write down your specific contributions. Now is not the time to be shy. Really give yourself the credit you deserve.

Think about problems you solved. Use specific words or phrases your clients will understand. Leave out any industry jargon and go for plain words that talk about results.


5. Do a timed free write to find your voice

This is where you let your subconscious mind bubble to the surface to unearth some new words or phrases you need. It’s an easy writers trick.

Set a timer (your phone has one) for at least 8-10 minutes. Take one word or phrase that most describes your project. Try to choose one that goes a little deeper than “website design” or “brand identity”. Something that resonates with you about this specific project.

Grab your favorite notebook or curl up in the corner with your laptop. Either way, the key is to not stop until the timer goes off. It’s important because it lets you get into a flow of not thinking about what you’re writing.

If you find yourself resisting, that’s okay. Just keep writing. Eventually you’ll get little helpful jewels and some clarity.

After the timer goes off, read it out loud, slowly to yourself. This is important because you can hear things that you would miss when reading silently to yourself.

Highlight and pull out the words and phrases that resonate. Do as many (or as few) as you want until you have a few words or phrases that work for you.


6. DON’t reinvent the wheel

Create a page template that you can re-use each time. This will help you save time and overcome overwhelm in the long haul.

In the beginning try to keep your format simple until it really becomes part of your work flow. Take a look at other websites who’s work you admire and get inspiration from the format they use.

To get yourself started, do it in whatever program you use most. Make it easy, don’t do a mock up right away. You can layout the text in a simple google doc or In Design. Create a template style that’s easy to repeat.


7. NOW MAKE IT PRETTY

Distill it all into a few sentences and add some bullet points, explaining how you thoughtfully approached each project using 1-2 sentences. This is where you pay attention to the visual language you’ve come up with that will bring your case study to life.

Choose words that highlight the problems you solved. And the creativity you used to help guide your clients to making better choices.

Think of it as a high level overview talking directly to that one client you really want to work with. Show them what you thought about while you were creating the work that reflects the client’s brand and mission.

Want even more social proof? Ask your client for a testimonial to share how great it was to work with you!


A Real Life Example

I worked with Sausalito based photographer and web designer Sophia Mavrides at HI5 Studio to update her case studies. More than just a gun for hire to snap some photos and build webpages, she helps people establish their brand identity. She visually captures the essence of who they are in their business.


Need Help?

If you want extra support getting there, I invite you to book a free 30 minute consult with me. I would love to help you get those case studies off your hard drive and onto your website.

6 Tips for Choosing a 100 Day Project You Can Stick With

Now that I've wrapped up my 100 Day Project I feel such a sense of play and joy again about my art. If you aren't familiar with the 100 Day Project or want to know more about what I chose, check out this blog, What is a 100 Day Project and Why I Did One.

Getting started is always the biggest hurdle in any creative project. But after you start, how do you set yourself up for success to actually stick with it?

If you're in San Francisco and want to connect with other creatives, check out the 100 Day Project MeetUp happening August 19th!

Here are 6 tips I found helpful in choosing a project I stuck with for 100 days. 

#1 Choose something you already do.

This one felt important. You’re taking something you already enjoy and making time for it because want to get better.

For the last few years I’ve been using tarot cards as writing prompts. It’s not something I would share. I use it as an exercise to get my writing flow going and it works.

In the past people have encouraged me to do it more regularly and share it online. I resisted. So the idea of doing it everyday felt like a valuable exercise in discipline. Rather than one more thing to add to my “creative project” plate, I decided to practice that.

 

#2 Pick Something you Enjoy Rather Than You “Should Get Better at it”:

We all have fears about how it will fit into our overpacked schedules. The common fear about being able to sick with it and what happens if you don’t. The important thing is to pick something simple that makes you smile and give it a try.

A friend of mine, @KatieMorell (LucysMummma) did 100 days of finger dancing! It was amazing. If I needed to lighten my mood, I’d just look for her routine to “The time of My Life” from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Priceless.

In one of Michael Beruits’s original Yale workshops, a student, Rachel Berger picked a paint chip out of a bag each day.  She wrote a short memory that came to her from it.  

 

#3 Create a Routine Around it

Practice is how you develop a creative habit. Having one small creative act can become an anchor to your days and give you a sense of accomplishment.

It can also be an opportunity to learn to be kind to yourself. If you miss days, there’s no rule that you can’t pick up where you left off and keep going.

In her New York Times column Life Interrupted, Suleika Jaquad, said, “It was a way of organizing my day around one small, simple act of happiness.”   

Surrendering to the process and showing up day after day is the only goal.

 

#4 Make a Space that Feels Good:

When you create a routine it helps to give yourself a special space to it.

Creative spaces send a subconscious signal that you’re taking yourself seriously. It could be a spot at home, a favorite chair or somewhere outside.

Forget about the outcome of a finished product. The game is getting yourself to do one small task each day. Make that as simple as possible by giving yourself a little bit of inspirational, comfortable space that you look forward to being in.

 

#5 Sharing it With Others Feels Scary and Uncomfortable:

To me this is a piece of the puzzle that helped me stick with my routine. If it’s something you feel shy about sharing, it can become a confidence builder.  

Sharing the tarot card piece wasn’t as scary as sharing my poems. That may be why I came up with the idea of sharing e a few cards. I wanted to deflect a little from what I considered my “silly little writing practice.” It surprised me how many people asked about the tarot cards I shared with my writing.

This is part of the mystery about creativity - we don’t know how these small acts effect other people.

Making someone smile when they are in a tough place is what the world needs more of right now.

#6 Participate in Community around it:

This is an opportunity to engage with other people’s projects online. There’s such variety and diversity of people and artwork t it’s easy to stumble upon a project that excites you. Curiosity breeds creativity.

And when we connect with people online, that feeds our inspiration. When we meet them in real life, that becomes a gift.

Now that this project is over, people all over the country have volunteered to organize free meet ups in their city.  It’s a way for people to connect in person. Whether you completed Day 1, Day 100 or you’re curious about trying it for the first time.

I had a positive experience committing to my practice and discovering new artists. So I offered to host a San Francisco meet up on August 19th.

A celebration of process is can ignite your imagination. So if you tried it and life got in the way, don’t give up. Come out and connect with people who went through the same thing. Talk to them about picking something easier next time.

 

Six important elements that helped me were:

  • Choose something you already do

  • Make it something you enjoy rather than a “should get better at”

  • Create a routine around it

  • Make a space that feels good

  • Sharing it with others feels scary and uncomfortable

  • Participate in community around it


 

 

What is a 100 Day Project and Why I Did One

 

If you haven't heard of the 100 Day Project before, this may give you some inspiration!

One of the myths about creativity is that some of are born with it and some aren't. As someone who self identifies as a creative and coaches people to unlock their creativity, creative ruts are common and depressing.

But creativity is muscle - so I decided to try a different approach to get the juices flowing and keep me on track. 

I'd heard of the 100 Day Project from friends and wanted to try. The idea is to take one small creative action everyday. Repeat it for 100 days while documenting and sharing it each day.

The discipline and commitment it takes to repeat one thing every day intrigued me. I wondered if I could do it. I also wanted a chance to engage with other artists on Instagram in a new way.

So I started thinking about things I already do that I wanted to get better at. Something I could create a routine around. 

It was a chance to experiment with being part of an online community. And a reason to post on Instagram everyday. I also promised myself I'd treat it like a game. If I couldn't keep it up there was no pressure to pretend. 

What came from this commitment was so much more!


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What is The 100 Day Project?

It's a global art community.

It’s a free global art community. It was inspired by a 100 day project Michael Beirut created at the Yale School of Art for his graphic design students. In 2014 Elle Luna and a group of friends took the idea of his Yale workshop and launched it as a global art project on Instagram.

It's An exercise in creativity. 

People ask themselves this question all the time. The truth is we’re all creative. We express it in different ways.

From how you run your business to what you cook. Even those improvisational answers you give your kids when you’re not ready to talk about a sensitive subject.

It’s an exercise in discipline.

The goal is to practice one small action everyday instead of focusing on a finished product. And to document and share it for 100 days as a way to jump start the creative process.  

“It’s a bite-sized way to play creatively,” Elle says. “Most people’s schedules are full with work and family commitments. This is a way to satisfy your curiosity about being part of a community that celebrates process.”

But where do you start? How do you choose something you can stick with for 100 days?

Here are six essential ingredients that helped me choose the project I stuck with while enjoying the process.  


100 Days Of Insta-Poems

As my project I decided to do a quick free-write each morning and share it with a photo. I have thousands of photos I haven’t shared.

I made it part of my morning routine. Using tarot cards to keep it simple and doing a free-write from whatever cards I picked that morning. Then, I paired it with a photo I had ready to go in my Instagram Preview App and shot a quick photo of some of the tarot cards I choose.

You can head over to my IG feed @JenBaxterSF to see some of the poems that went along with these photos! 

 

5 Insta-Worthy Places in Bernal Heights You Forgot About

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When was the last time you struggled for an interesting Instagram picture to post?

We all do it. Sit there and wonder what to photograph for our feed. 

Here are a few ideas to spark your creativity as well as your social media profiles. 

Bernal Heights is by far one of the coolest neighborhoods to explore in San Francisco. Whether you’re looking for artsy Instagram photos or just fun coffee captions, it’s ideal for a photo walk. There are so many places that will inspire you to take better photos. 

An important thing to remember when looking for great photo opportunities is the background. It can make or break a photo. Once you have that, patiently wait for something to happen and you’ll capture those candid moments.  

It doesn’t have to be the cliché sunset shots over the Golden Gate Bridge. Wander around Cortland Avenue for some epic and unique street photography. 

1. Epicurean Trader: 401 Cortland Avenue, San Francisco, Tel: (415) 872- 9484

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This small but mighty Bernal location carries some cultish food brands with beautiful packaging. All of it artfully displayed and Instagram worthy.  

The owners of Epicurean Trader, Mat Pond and Holly McDell, have nailed the visual retail experience. 

Their impeccable choice of products sets the vibe of the whole store. Their style is artisanal and graphic. Their chalk lettered walls make the look complete. 

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You’ll find morning sun shining through a window filled with freshly backed bread from Tartine Bakery. Beautiful teas and chocolates packaged and arranged with an eye for detail. 

Part of their intention is to make sure their customers enjoy shopping the shopping experience. It’s just as important as the high quality, small batch artisan products they sell. 

Together the combo makes for vivid, colorful photos with patterns and pop for Insta posts. Remember, they have another location on Union Street. 

Favorite hashtags: #TheEpicureanTrader #BestBottleShopInSF

2. Cafe St. Jorge 3438 Mission Street, San Francisco, Tel: (415) 814-2028

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This is a favorite meeting place for neighbors and locals. It’s bright, light and airy. Perfect for candid photos, with lots of alluring subjects.  

The care and presentation of their waffles (yum), lattes and salads are camera-ready. Try the bold and colorful golden turmeric toddy. Ready-made for some witty coffee captions. 

Their avocado chili toast and fruit waffles are already Insta-famous. And delicious any time of day. You’ll find window seats tucked away, with local artwork hanging on the walls. 

Their calendar of monthly live music nights are perfect for people watching. 

Favorite hashtags: #CafeStJorge #CafeStJorgeSF

3. Pinhole Coffee: 231 Cortland Avenue, San Francisco, Tel: (415) 364-8257

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The owner, JoEllen Depokakido has created a cozy atmosphere and a thriving artist community with this cafe. It’s been voted Best of Bay in 2016. Pinhole serves the need for a neighborhood cafe where art and community co-mingle. 

This place is informal, intimate and without Wifi. People go there to talk and meet neighbors.

JoEllen got her barista experience working for businesses like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia. So their lattes are served with love. And completely photogenic. 

The name comes from the pinhole camera. One of the simplest ever made. It consists of a light-proof box, some sort of film and a pinhole. This cafe is also simple, comfortable, communal and has excellent coffee. What else do you need?

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Extra points for creatively using the mural outside made by local artist Amos Goldbaum. It’s sure to get you a few more Insta likes. 

Favorite hashtags: #PinholeCoffee #PinholeCoffeeArtists

4. Succulence: 402 Cortland Avenue, San Francisco, Ca Tel: 415-282-2212

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This store originally opened in 1986 as Four Star Video and the building itself is almost 100 years old. The owners, Ken and Amy Shelf, bought it in 2007 and began selling a small number of succulents in the back of the store. That was before the plants were so popular and the idea grew. 

Now they’ve turned it into a place that offers “supplies for succulent living”.

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It is filled with pretty plants. In fact, the USEXY vertical garden wall is one of the most Insta-famous spots in the neighborhood. 

The store design is a bloggers delight. While you’re there you can check out classes on vertical gardening, beginning succulent design and terrariums. 

Favorite hashtags: #Succulence #SucculentShop

5. Bernal Hill: Bernal Heights Blvd

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When you add food, plant shopping and a sunset hike, you have the perfect photo walk. The mother of Bernal is the infamous Bernal hill. A short hike to the top rewards you with a panoramic view of San Francisco. 

The swing on the hill, with the city in the distance provides that classic photo opportunity. Remember to bring your dog for extra bonus points. 

Favorite Hashtags: #BernalHill #BernalHeights

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Spending an afternoon in Bernal Heights will give you plenty of Instagram worthy photos. You’ll rediscover favorite shops and have a score of restaurants and cafes to choose from. It’s one of the local favorite areas to stay in San Francisco. 

Let me know in the comments some of your favorite places for a photo walk. 

Want More?

3 Things You’ll Gain From Turning Client Questions Into Shareable Content

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One of the best ways to brainstorm new content is to ask your clients what they care about.

 

Generating new content ideas to market your business can feel like a dreaded chore. 

The problem is that you’re busy - you want to share something valuable but you aren’t sure what that is. 

Rest assured, you aren’t alone.  Better yet, there’s a way out of analysis paralysis and into the content creation flow.

 

Ease Your Social Media Dread

Recently a writer friend asked me for help. She needed to promote a powerful documentary she produced for a client. This woman is no joke. She’s a brilliant writer and creative director with a long career writing ad copy for top agencies. Yet when it comes to sharing her latest work on social, her creativity doesn’t just end - it comes to a screeching halt. 

We went back and forth about different angles to promote the new film. We talked about Facebook and LinkedIn updates but both left her with the all too familiar “social media dread”. That feeling that creeps up when you have to talk about your own work more than once. 

She felt like talking about her work more than once was bothering people. Despite the fact that short, high-quality documentaries are so shareable.

While this may be the case with some content, there's a difference when you invest in creating on-topic content. The kind that your followers actually care about. You also have to post it more than once, in different ways, or you won’t reach them.

So how do you create that high-value content your readers actually want? 

One of the best ways to create content is to start by asking your clients what they care about.  These are the client questions you get over and over. People need that information, that’s why you keep getting the same questions.

It lets people know that hear them, you understand their problems, and are here to help. Having those resources on your website can make the difference between booking a call or not. 

A few ways to gather these questions are by: 

  • Sending an email
  • Writing down everything people ask you for a week

By taking their questions and turning it into content, it shows that you can see the greater meaning of it all. You can tell a story they can relate to and give them the big picture. Perspective is key. 

Adding this small step to your content creation process will help you generate new ideas. And it has all kinds of unexpected benefits!

3 Things You’ll Gain From Turning Client Questions Into Shareable Content 

1) Shows you’re listening to your clients 

It positions you as someone who can help. You’re giving people who are checking you out online a sense of who you are and what you’re like to work with. Hearing your ideas, your tone and style gives people a strong sense of you before they reach out. 

2) Provides valuable information 

You’re showing your expertise and knowledge. Which gains people’s trust. It’s marketing your business in a way that’s being of service. You’re showing that you understand their pain points. You’ve heard this question a million times. 

3) You’re helping them grow their business

Providing free resources around something people are struggling with is a great way to follow up after an intro call. We all go through information overload and often forget key things the first time we hear them. Sending a link to relevant resources from your website after a client call is a win-win on both sides. It gives them time to digest the information when they can focus. 

Putting it into action

The next time you’re posting to Facebook, writing a blog or sending a newsletter, you can refer to your short list of client questions. It saves hours of agonizing and brainstorming.

If you aren’t sure where to start or want extra support getting there, I invite you to book a free 30 minute consult with me. I would love to help you generate some great ideas and unlock your creativity!


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