The secret to becoming a better professional in any industry is practice, practice, practice. Even in creative industries like design, honing your craft is all about carving time out of your day to brush up on your skills. Here are eight simple ways designers can stay sharp and mix up their daily routine, without taking a lot of time out of the work day.

  1. Trace: Find works of design that you love and trace them. Use a computer or a piece of tracing paper. It doesn't matter. In the act of re-creating what they've done, you're forced to notice small things that you normally would have overlooked.
  2. Study the worst: Find the worst pieces of design you can. Study them. What do they do that's just ridiculous? Can you think of why the designer made that decision? How would you make it different?
  3. Ask: Contact 5 of your favorite designers and ask them, "What were the three biggest breakthrough moments you had in your design education? What did you realize in those moments?"
  4. Buy: Purchase great works of design. Spend those five extra dollars on an app. Go to the local table-maker instead of IKEA. Surround yourself with beauty. Put your money where your heart is. Communicate to yourself, and to others, that you care about design.
  5. Start from the beginning: We let the current forms of things constrain our imaginations too much. Ask yourself, "what is the purpose of this thing I'm creating? And what's the most elegant way to get people to that goal?" The solutions you come up with may look completely different than anything that's been created before.
  6. Learn other things: Fill your head with new ideas and inspiration. Study mathematics. Study Spanish. Study shark biology. Study anything. Great design comes from the collision and melding of novel concepts. Always be searching and learning.
  7. Be extreme: Jolt yourself out of your normal state of mind. Go skydiving. Sprint as hard as you can up the hill near your office when you're returning home from a coffee break. Go live in a completely new city for a month. Volunteer to rebuild houses in a war-torn area. Get out of your zone. Escape comfort.
  8. Meditate: Learn how to still your mind. This doesn't mean that you have to get really good at sitting down, closing your eyes, and concentrating. This just means that you have to learn how to play with, and control the flow of, your attention. Some people do this through yoga. Some people do this through music. Learn how you can best channel, and then unleash, the flow of your thoughts. The world is waiting for your creations.