Creative Workflow: 7 Strategies for Structuring Creativity

Renata Martín Intriago ·

Renata is a staff writer on the Envato Tuts+ team. She's passionate about all things film, streaming, sports, and outdoors. Find her reading several unfinished books at the same time!

creative workflow

Too often, the creative professional is perceived as messy. As such, some believe that the creative process must also be chaotic and that structure is the enemy of spontaneity. But both assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes, professionals such as artists and project managers will thrive when there is room for their ideas to expand and evolve. That said, how can they know if these are genuinely doing so? Spoiler alert: structure can help boost creativity.

This article provides more context on the role of rules in the development of creative projects, as well as seven actionable ways that project managers can apply to organize the creative workflow and get better results out of it.

creative workflow
Source: Unsplash

How can structure help keep the creativity pumping?

First things first: it’s vital to conceive structure as a support for creativity rather than a threat. It’s like planting a tree. A small pot is a must for the plant to germinate and gain strength as it grows, and once ready, it can spread its branches all over the place.

Indeed, people are not trees, and project management is much more complex than a pot. But the analogy explains well how structure and an organized workflow can be creativity’s best allies.

Let’s talk about people. Each mind is a world of its own, and that’s the source of all innovation. It’s fascinating to imagine all the possibilities that creativity will bring humanity.

But how can we ensure it doesn’t get stuck in a simple concept? How do we transform an idea into something tangible, applicable, practical, and lasting? That’s where rules come in.

American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky suggests challenging the rules is a form of creativity:

If you have no structure and no rules at all, it’s like tossing paint at the wall. It’s not a creative act. There needs to be some structure that provides you with capacities.

Noam Chomsky

So, long story short, there must be rules in place for creativity to happen.

Structure provides a paved road for creatives to focus on their craft, eliminating the need to pay attention to the more tedious details. Rules help simplify processes and make more effective decisions. You can break them if they represent an obstacle to innovation, but the underlying basis of rules will afford you the luxury of worrying only about creating.

creative workflow
Gantt chart providing workflow structure

7 Ways to Organize Your Creative Workflow

Now, we understand why it’s key to have a structure for creativity to succeed. We’ll go through seven useful ways you can adopt to organize your projects’ creative workflow.

But first, let’s divide the structure of the creative process into two parts: the form and the substance. For the form, we’ll explore four approaches. Although they’re not the only ones, these are general aspects to take into account.

Let’s dive into them!

1. Delimit the role of each team member

It can be common for creative professionals to want to do a bit of everything. As the team leader, the project manager needs to make sure that each team member is assigned predefined tasks. This way, everyone can stay on their own track and simultaneously be on the same page.

A cross-functional team consists of employees from different departments working together, each bringing their skills and creativity to the table. However, this does not mean someone should do other people’s jobs.

This idea suggests that a project can benefit better from various profiles. It can allow greater creativity and freedom, as one can focus on perfecting their craft while benefiting from the other’s points of view. The more clearly defined the role of each individual, the more meaningful the collaboration between the different parties will be.

A lean methodology can help achieve this cross-functionality. It aims to constantly improve a business’s processes by respecting employees and eliminating waste. It’s not quite the same as the Kanban methodology, which we will address further in the article.

2. Manage each project separately

Managing each project separately is vital to avoid mixing objectives, clients’ guidelines, or even deadlines. Some may think that doing this can overcomplicate things, but not necessarily—at least not if you’re using the right tools.

Take Teamhood’s Project Portfolio as an example. You can quickly analyze separate projects in a single workspace and compare key metrics calculated automatically from your project data. Organize by fields and colors for easy identification.

Using tools like this, you have projects labelled differently and still get the chance to look at them side-by-side to take them all in as a complete work portfolio.

creative workflow
Teamhood’s project overview

3. Do project breakdowns

There’s no better way to tackle a significant challenge than taking it step by step. That’s why project breakdowns are a must for every well-organized project manager. The easiest path to achieve this can be summed up in one word: Kanban.

Kanban is a project management framework and method that integrates practices like workflow visualization, limiting work in progress, and ongoing improvement (yes, it shares some lean thinking principles!). Implementing Kanban boards in your workflow is helpful, but applying a complete Kanban system is game-changing. 

In Teamhood, we can help with flexible Kanban structures that fit your needs. Our Kanban system provides columns and swimlanes to organize work items, queues, system metrics, and other cool features. It even prevents you from multitasking by applying WIP limits. Project breakdowns are easier to make and understand with categories, columns, rows, and as much visual aid as possible.

creative workflow
Teamhood’s visual Kanban board

4. Stick to effective communication channels

Ineffective communication channels are the easiest way to complicate things that could be simple. One of the most important parts to consider when trying to improve the workflow is ensuring simple and effective communication channels are in place. 

In-person communication can be the right channel for big conversations that need unravelling a variety of aspects. It could be essential in the initial steps of a project, to assess progress, and to wrap things up. Usually, it’s the best approach for project managers to discuss critical or delicate matters.

Video conferencing is another ideal communication channel to deliver relevant information, such as project updates that require the team’s input. This is especially true with decentralized teams of people located in different parts of a country (or the world).

Apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams are good channels for everyday comms, especially when you need immediate responses and quick, shorter answers. Email is another essential channel for keeping a record of internal communications or interactions with customers and clients.

Whatever channels you consider suitable to improve the workflow, remember that these should make it easy for different team members to collaborate and stay updated about relevant matters.

Now that we’ve covered the form, let’s switch to the ‘substance’—the creative part itself. Here are three suggestions to land your ideas. These are helpful to ensure workflow efficiency and prevent the project from taking years to complete.

5. Use keywords as prompts for content ideas

You’ve probably heard about keyword research and SEO. If you haven’t, we’ve got you:

  • SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, the process of improving your content to appear higher in search results and get more traffic.
  • Keyword research is finding the right terms for your website to be found through search engines. 

Keywords are, on the one hand, an SEO optimization strategy. On the other, they’re prompts that can give you ideas. If you’re wondering what to talk about, these suggest what people are interested in knowing. After all, keywords are (literally) what users are looking for.

So, if you’re posting online, do keyword research. Ensure your content is relevant to your target audience and that they can find it. It can be super specific and niche, so the audience may not be huge. That’s not necessarily an issue though, as long as it reaches the right people.

6. Make diagrams

There are many kinds of diagrams that’ll help you streamline the creative process of a project and land your team’s ideas.

The perfect diagram can look like a storyboard for filmmakers or audiovisual professionals. For marketers, it may take the form of data charts. Project managers can benefit from Kanban boards, color-coded calendars, Gantt charts, concept maps, and other varieties of visual structures.

creative workflow
Source: Business Framework Methods presentation by paragina, available on Envato Elements

The ideal diagram will depend on the niche in which you are performing. Whatever type you choose, using any kind of visual aid as a draft is an excellent way to keep the creativity on track and avoid it from overflowing everywhere.

7. Try content creation tools to save time

Creative tools save you time on steps you don’t necessarily want or can do manually. If you have to create graphics, video, or visual elements, templates that were pre-designed by professionals can give you and your team a head start.

Even presentation templates can take a load off your shoulders if you need to present a pitch or give a conference. They can also be handy sources of inspiration.

Online marketplaces with premium subscriptions, like Envato Elements, offer creative assets that usually have the commercial license covered. A license saves you a lot of trouble if you need to use any graphic in your social media channels or PR campaigns, to name a few use cases.

The secret of a successful creative workflow is to avoid getting lost in the technicalities. Make sure your cross-functional team can perform on a solid foundation, a fair playground: this is how structure meets creativity.

The less time you spend worrying about workflow efficiency, the more you can perfect your craft. The more time and effort you dedicate to perfecting your craft, the better the outcome will be–and this can be true for any kind of project.

With Teamhood’s help, you can start getting better, more innovative results and keep the creativity flowing. As we like to say, More Action, Less Distraction!

Organize your workflow and unlock your creative potential with Teamhood!

Try now and see how easy it can all be!

Register now!

rich kanban board cards
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