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Tips for the Shillington Community: Staying Motivated and Inspired

Designer working remotely in studio

This is an incredibly challenging period around the world and with restrictions in place, this is a time to pause, reflect and look inward while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. It’s easy to feel dispirited with so much uncertainty, but it’s also important for us all to come together to adapt to these changes and make the best of our new normal through mutual support.

We asked the Shillington community—teachers, Shillumni and the industry to share tips and insights into their daily routines during the quarantine. They responded by sharing personal projects that are keeping them motivated, the importance of daily routines for productivity and a variety of resources that have been keeping them creative while working from home.

Olivia Chen, Shillington Teacher

Routine is so important. Here are some of my tips—from having a daily to-do list to celebrating the small things and working on your own terms:

Get a very good paper planner

The Goal Digger Planner from MiGoal has been so helpful for me ever since I started my own business and working from my home office. It has yearly/weekly goal lists built-in. A weekly to-do list, and a place for you to write down your weekly routine, where you can check how often you do them weekly. Most importantly it forces me to rate my week when I finish that week, so I would have to take a real look at myself and how I manage my time.

Daily to-do list

I write them down in my planner, but I also keep a post-it note of things I want to finish on my workstation. I cross out each of them after I finish it. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Celebrate the small things

If you have a huge project, break your goal down to smaller milestones that are actionable within a day, so you can cross that to-do list out and feel good about your day.

For example, “learn motion graphics” has been my goal for the past month, and I break it down to very little steps like “watch tutorial lesson one” and “practice for 2 hours”—very small actionable milestones.

Don’t plan too far ahead

Besides the big projects that are running through more than 6 months or a year, I don’t plan too many things that are more than a week ahead. There are so many unpredictable things that can happen when you run your business, so I try to give myself more flexibility by planning weekly. As long as my weekly goal lists are mostly checked by the end of the week, I don’t mind if I move the to-do list around between each day. Some days, I might feel lazy and uninspired, then I try to use that day to upskill or work on the business side of the company instead of working on my actual design.


The key is to establish some sort of routine to get you out of bed and work. For me, a quiet and long breakfast is essential, it helps me to get focused for another day working from home. I have some wacky rituals as soon as I get up, such as burning incenses for the whole house, drink matcha and take my vitamins. I also have a pretty regular routine to help me break down the day. Such as yoga classes, acupuncture and allowing myself the freedom to get out and get some fresh air if need to.

Get behind that computer

I usually start the day with the emailing/accounts side of the business before working on the design. I find that I need some hours spent on the computer first before being motivated to work. Whether it be browsing for inspiration, reading a design blog or anything to get you to feel excited about design.

Work on your own terms

As soon as I started my own business and work for myself, I threw the “office-hour” off the window, it never really worked for me anyway when I was working for a company. I established my own work hour that works with my nature. I am usually more focused/inspired at night, so I work till very late sometimes, and start the next day late. But I still start no later than 10am, for business meetings, calls or anything related to client management or sub-contractors. But I don’t sit in front of my computer and work all day, I will then go do yoga/cook in the middle of the day before jumping back to work more.

Grace Dawson, Director of Brand at Jones Knowles Ritchie

The perspective of those both in and out of the industry is really a good balance to keep inspired but keep grounded at the same time. But that’s just me—everyone works differently and has different ways of learning and being inspired. The key takeaway is making sure you know what your boundaries are, keeping them in place and actively notice what is bringing your most creative moments and satisfaction, then structure them into your day.

Be kind to yourself and others. This is unprecedented. There is no right or wrong way to be creative during a pandemic.

Cathy Sison, Shillington Teacher

Get ready as if you were heading out to work

I know this might sound a little weird but getting ready, changing into what I call comfy work from home clothes (not PJs) has really helped me mentally stay productive and motivated to work from home. Also, it’s very handy if you have spontaneous Zoom calls—I always like to be prepared.

Ready-made meals and meal planning

Sometimes working from home you’re only a few feet away from the kitchen and it’s easy to snack or get distracted thinking of meals you can conjure up sometimes—it’s a means of procrastination. I am very guilty of this as I’ve discovered how to make chocolate chip cookies. But what I’ve found useful is making some of my meals the night before so I don’t waste time during my lunch break and it’s one thing less I need to worry about.

Give yourself one or two non-negotiable

I think it’s important that we look after our mental health as there can be a lot to take in during this time of uncertainty. We can worry about a lot of things from our family, finances or job, but we can sometimes dismiss our own mental well-being. So a non-negotiable is something you do for yourself once a day, it might take you 5 or 20 minutes but it’s time-out for you. For me, I walk every day for an hour either in the morning or the evening, and it gives me a sense of stillness. My other non-negotiable is to dance at least once a week, I take an online class and it gives me so much joy to move around and do what I love.

Clock off means, step away from the computer

This one can be quite a hard one, working from home can almost lead to overworking as we have such easy access. I had to be quite strict with myself during these times because I could foresee myself working till midnight.

Create boundaries—if you finish at 5pm switch off your electronics and go for that walk or just remove yourself for an hour.

Not only does it help your brain to re-charge but it allows you to breathe and restart.

Here are a few of my favourite recommendations at the moment:

Spencer Harrison, Shillington Teacher

Make sure you stay active and stretch (especially if you are at a computer all the time). I love the 3-minute Japanese stretching routine called Rajio Taiso which I do after being at the computer for a while. Another great one is Down Dog Yoga and the 7 Minute Workout are the go-to daily apps I use to start the day.

I haven’t made anything myself right now but I have come across these two Instagram posts:

  • Alice Oehr’s great tips on working from home
  • Peter Drew’s tips on working from home for couples!

Ben Thaler, Shillington Graduate 

As I started to work from home more, I noticed that my home office (bedroom) was startlingly uninspiring. So I’ve gone on a bit of an art spending spree—Efdot, Steven Harrington and Miles Tewson are some of my current and longtime favorites.

I’ve been forcing myself to take a lot more walks—while practicing social distancing of course. As a designer, getting up to clear your head and let some new ideas in is so essential. Given the current times, it’s been easy to just sit at my desk and stare at the same artboard for hours, so forcing myself to get up and walk, even for 5 minutes, has been crucial.

Jared Tredly, Associate Director of Design at Salt

Maintain the “old” routine

I’m still working full-time from home right now but was previously in the office. I still try to get up at the same time as before, get dressed for my day like I normally would and then go sit at my dining table to do my workday! Feeling like I’m dressed for work helps me get in the work zone.

Loving the Lists

I’m just simply making lists at the start of my day and adding throughout what I need to do—small or large—I just jot it down and cross it off when it’s done.

When I feel myself straying or getting distracted I look back at the list and push myself to get another task done.

Get Away from the screen

Employed or not—we’re all glued to the screen working or looking for work. I have to get away from it every day. I eat lunch in a different spot in the apartment, I go for walks when it’s safe to do so.

Bad days are going to happen

I’m giving myself permission to have “off” days. Days when I’m not feeling my productive best when I’m not having the wins I wanted with my work and I just feel I’m hitting barriers. I give myself permission to just take it a bit easier, work on some admin tasks or even just take an extended break until I feel good again.

Jimmy Muldoon, Shillington Teacher

My morning routine brings some healthy and happy normality to my life.

  • By doing a workout class means there’s one less thing I need to think about and plan for due to my days being taken up by thinking creatively and problem-solving. Keeping my phone away from my desk during this time is very important so I’m more focused.
  • That first coffee is key followed by breakfast and getting ready before my workday officially starts.
  • Lists for me are so important as my mind can bounce from one idea to another without finishing what I start out doing, which is why I use MiGoals notebooks so I can offload all my to-do tasks as well as creative ideas that pop into my mind.

Helpful Apps

  • I use the Forest app which controls the amount of time I’m not able to use my phone so I can stay focused on the important tasks ahead.
  • I’ve found cooking to be a helpful channel for my mind to relax. To get excited to create something new and devious, the NYT food app is a wonderful source of inspiration.
  • I use Headspace app for meditation since my mind is always in a state of thinking about the things that need get done.

Finding Inspiration

  • Creative blogs like Gabby Lord’s blogs OMGLORD and Tobias van Schneider get my mind thinking on things that challenge my scope of design thinking and process while offering cool inspiration sites that I haven’t seen before which lead me down a rabbit hole. These times are necessary for me creatively to not place boundaries on my creative self and to let it run free and wild, to dream.

Working outside when possible is my happy place, I’m a much happier person when I’m outside creating or thinking.

  • Drawing, color in and creating using my Graphic Design PlayBook from Sophie Cure & Aurélien Farina. This book helped me to create my own posters and commissions while challenging me too have zero judgment for what I’ve created or of what people will think of it. Creating with zero objectives has been freeing.

Katie VicaryShillington London Student 

One thing that might be helpful for designers and everyone is Morning Pages. The gist of it is, first thing in the morning you write 3 A4 pages of whatever it is you’re thinking—sometimes you have to really force yourself to do it, but after doing it every day for a while it really helps you come up with new ideas for your work, or find new ways of doing things.

There are lots of things on Instagram to keep you going as well. Off the top of my head, Isolation Art School is really good and open for everyone, and @artopencalls has lots of open calls you can enter as a designer/writer/creative.

Shrenik Ganatra, Shillington Teacher

I have, over time, learned to embrace the precarious yet fascinating nature of the quarantine period. It has, obviously, upset my “normal” routine when it comes to self-care, social/creative life and it sucks to not be in physical contact with your friends and family. However, on the flip-side, you have so much time with yourself. All the hours I used to spend getting ready to commute to work, preparing for a social activity, going to the local cafe in my neighborhood are now like freebies.

I have made it a point to dedicate this “extra time” to activities such as cooking more regularly, reading more, working out at home and undertaking more passion projects. As a result, most nights I go to bed with a sense of accomplishment. The key is to realize that this is a temporary situation. Once we’re out of this, you’ll probably never have as much time and space to spend with yourself daily. Setting goals for each day helps heaps. Calling close friends and family frequently at this time is a blessing.

My routine consists of waking up early in the morning on most days. I use the time to catch up on personal emails. I like starting the day with a fresh mindset and working out in the morning helps to achieve that. In the evenings after work, I do go out for a quick bike ride in the neighborhood. Nights are usually for downtime.

When working from home, try and keep the distractions such as social media notifications and messages to a bare minimum.

Instead, focus on being efficient with the tasks for a given day. If you finish them ahead of the deadline, you’ll achieve great satisfaction. Moreover, it’ll free up some time which can then be utilized to indulge in distractions. Take frequent short breaks; they’re much needed to calm your mind. Also, make sure your room smells good. For me, it changes the energy of the room and helps with productivity.

Apart from teaching at Shillington, I have been writing music at an unusually good pace lately for my band Minaxi. We have accumulated about 3 albums worth of material. I’m looking forward to getting back with the guys and playing the songs out with renewed emotion. I have also been playing quite a few livestreams with local Brooklyn venues on behalf of the band.

For a daily dose of inspiration, I recommend:

  • Creative Boom Chat is an excellent resource to connect with other creatives from around the world. They’re a friendly bunch and Katy Cowan is very kind.
  • The Happy Broadcast on Instagram for a daily dose of happiness from around the world.

Christian MendozaShillington Brisbane Graduate 

I started a design project—it’s a series of posters of every song of one of my favorite bands, Boards Of Canada, which I always thought have cool names for their songs. I try to make a new poster every week. It keeps me motivated and I feel I can cope better with the current situation. You can check it at @hexagon.posters.

For more resources to motivate and inspire, be sure to check out this list of work-related articles, inspirational content and virtual events happening in the industry. If you have any recommendations for additional resources or tips, email us here, we would love to hear from you!

Header image design by #ShilloNY teacher Cathy Sison.

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