“Atomic Habits” to Make Better Designers

June 29, 2023

Creative direction, In the age of remote work, can be challenging. Finding effective management techniques to keep employees motivated and engaged is crucial. And for designers looking to level up their skills, there are specific strategies that can make all the difference. Taking inspiration from James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” which dives into breaking bad habits and building new ones, we can apply its principles to tackle these challenges head-on. In this article, we’ll explore practical tactics for fostering motivation and engagement and reveal the secrets to transforming good designers into rock stars.

Whether good or bad, habits become deeply ingrained within us and operate on autopilot. Cues trigger habits into action. For instance, putting on your headphones signals your brain to enter focused work mode. When aiming for significant changes, focusing on small habits and having patience is crucial. You won’t see immediate physical changes after a single workout, but regular exercise will yield noticeable results over time. The same principle applies to developing designers and improving design teams.1

Enabling bad habits can have a compounding effect. For example, if you neglect to complete your timesheets daily, it’ll end up taking more time and effort later, as you struggle to recall every task accurately. This can negatively impact your perceived productivity.

Here’s the deal: if you get 1% worse every day for a year, you’ll experience a 00.03% decline. However, if you get 1% better every day for a year, you’ll see a whopping 37.78% improvement.2

How to Kickstart Good Habits For Your Design Team

To develop new good habits, it’s crucial to make them as easy as possible to integrate into daily routines. Have your team set aside 5 minutes each day to seek inspiration. This can significantly impact a designer’s creativity. They can schedule this time during a morning coffee break and make it a consistent habit. Yes, we are a B2B design agency, but inspiration should not be limited to a B2B focus. Trends in web design, interior design, art, UX design, technology and photography should all be considered.   Regular exposure to inspiring content will have a compounding effect and enhance your team’s design skills. 

Teams can benefit from being granularly specific too. If your goal is to have a team member become a better Google Slide designer, dedicating 5 minutes daily to exploring inspirational slide decks and saving them can transform their work from average to extraordinary while reducing completion time. As the habit becomes second nature, their mind will absorb these inspirations, allowing the designer to draw from a well of creative ideas. After a month, consider increasing the inspiration quest to 10 minutes daily. Remember, building excellent habits takes time. Picasso didn’t become a master painter overnight; he developed his skills through consistent daily practice.

Have your team identify with the desired habit.3 Have them embrace their identities as a designer and attach positive ideas to them. Whether their passion lies in illustration, branding, or UI, encourage them to let go of negative thoughts that hinder progress. Thoughts like “I’m not an illustrator” or “I can’t learn animation” will only hold them back.

Being in the company of other creatives can be highly motivating and inspiring. By aligning yourself with other designers, you create an environment that fosters good design habits. Regular team meetings, where you review work, brainstorm ideas, share inspiration, and build connections, can be instrumental in cultivating an inspiring creative community. At ROI•DNA, our design team meets every day for half an hour to do just that. And you can see the results of this in every groundbreaking, strategic design we do.

The Secret Sauce that Sets the Best Designers Apart

While talent and genetics play a role in design, true greatness stems from the patience and perseverance to tackle mundane daily tasks. Practice and repetition lead to breakthrough moments. Even during periods of low motivation, the best designers find ways to show up and put in the effort, no matter how tedious the task. These may seem like skippable small steps but taking the time to spell-check Figma files, reviewing work thoroughly, and going the extra mile, are atomic habits that can make a significant difference.

How to Break Bad Habits

“The truth is our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient.”

-James Clear, Atomic Habits

Does that resonate? If so, how do we break that cycle?

Bad habits are rooted in short-term rewards, which can be addictive. Good habits require pushing through the monotony until you reach the breakthrough moment. They demand more patience.

As James Clear puts it:

“The consequences of bad habits are delayed while the rewards are immediate. With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good.”

Understanding the motivations behind bad habits is crucial to breaking free from them. When you delay work to scroll through Instagram, what you’re really seeking is to feel different. Procrastination allows you to escape feelings of dread and being overwhelmed. You receive immediate gratification but suffer the consequences in the long run.

Reduce the cues that inspire bad habits.5 Stop wasting time on social media by putting your phone in another room. Put your notifications on “do not disturb.” Out of sight, out of mind? Absolutely!

If you’re trying to break a bad habit, say it out loud. For instance, saying, “If I don’t do my timesheets today, tomorrow will be worse,” can create a sense of urgency and make the consequences more real.

Encourage your team to reward themselves for completing mundane tasks. For example, if they create 200+ banner variations, go for ice cream, walk, or just take a break.

In Conclusion

In the age of remote work, keeping designers (and all employees) motivated and engaged requires deliberate efforts. By adopting the principles of atomic habits, we can create an environment that promotes productivity and growth.

Atomic habits to build:

  • Commit to doing small/atomic! daily tasks like inspiration search
  • Attach positive habits to your identity
  • Align with a community of peers
  • Small rewards

Atomic habits to break:

  • Procrastination
  • “I can’t” mentality 
  • Doing the minimum
  • Avoiding the boring

12345Ideas referenced from the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear

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