At some point or another, you might feel like you hit a rut. It's not burnout, but you don't feel like you're doing as well as you should be as a graphic designer.
We all go through it from time to time, because it's completely unrealistic to expect that we're going to improve 100% of the time all the time. But every now and then, it makes sense to step back and challenge yourself.
This is important even when you work in a high stress or fast paced environment. You likely don't get a lot of time to go above and beyond, or explore things that you want to. It's easy to get comfortable or complacent when you're in this kind of situation.
No matter the case, you should always take time to step back and get out of the rut. Even if its 20–30 minutes to design something fun.
I was inspired a few years ago by a car company who sent their designers away once a year to design something that wasn't a car. They came back with neat looking guitars, charcoal grills, and a toaster to name a few things. It was a great exercise because it forced them to think about something that they didn't normally think about. It led to them to design unique and creative concepts that were outside their comfort zone.
As a graphic designer, we can do the exact same things. If you design websites, it might be fun to design a shirt. Design logos? Try create a poster or sketch a cartoon character. Doing these things can help get your creative juices flowing in a different direction and even re-frame how you approach design or solve problems.
Another favorite example is to take something you've designed in the past and revisit it. Can you push the concept farther or make it better? Most times, when we get to the end of a project, we don't want to dedicate any more brain power to it. If a reasonable amount of time has passed, it might be worth revisiting that project. You can re-apply yourself and use the new knowledge you have to take another go at it. The goal isn't always to create something portfolio worthy. Sometimes it ends up similar to what you initially designed, and sometimes it doesn't.
Last, I like finding designs that seem like they're out of my skill zone and recreate them. This is how I actually started getting into web design. Back in the day, when there weren't very many tutorials, or even a Google to refer to, it was my only option. I'd take it upon myself to find a site that I liked and practice recreating it.
It feels like this method has gone by the wayside over the years as more tutorial websites pop up. But there's a fun challenge to closing your browser, not referring to a tutorial and seeing how far you can get. I've learned a lot about how different tools in Photoshop or Illustrator work by experimenting like this.
What's also great is that as I broke those designs down, I realized how not so out of reach they were for me. It forced me to give myself more credit as a designer, since I was capable of something that I didn't think I was before.
And that's the point with all of this. Ultimately, you're not just building up your skill and talent. You're getting the confidence to push yourself harder next time, or do something truly exceptional that you had in you all along.