Habits are the actions that gradually make us who we are. They can give us strength to succeed, or, they can become a barrier to our creative dreams. When you hear stories about high achievers like Ernest Hemingway who wrote forty seven drafts to his novel, A Farewell to Arms before deciding on the right one, you’d wonder how that sort of discipline is possible. Hard to believe, but he was just a human with good creative habits (and despite his well known love of alcohol, he never drank while he worked).
The right daily rituals can help retain your best ideas, and preserve the time you need to gain traction with your projects. As people, we’re incredibly adaptable. Bad habits, like binging Netflix until 3am or eating a box of cookies in one sitting are easy to fall prey to. The good news here is that effective work habits are just as easy to pick up. It’s all about repetition. Here are the consistent habits of the most productive creative professionals.
1. Don’t Stray From Your Schedule
Make appointments with your creative work, and always show up. Have the same respect for your process as you do for your day job or anything that provides your livelihood. Keep those appointments in your day planner as a reminder. When everyday life intervenes, get resourceful and reshuffle your time. If you miss a morning session, book a double session the next day to make up for it. Get in the mindset that this time needs to be honored the same way you wouldn’t miss a dental cleaning or a physical. Remember to pace yourself and take breaks while you work. It’s often stated, but bears repeating. Creativity is a marathon, not a race.
2. The Power Of Planning Ahead
One of the most popular excuses of creatively unfulfilled people is they simply don’t have time in their schedule to prioritize projects. It can be totally legitimate too. The pressures of work, family life, and life’s general curveballs can be a lot to take on. That’s why planning your sessions ahead of time can be the life raft you need to keep this time afloat. Call a babysitter weeks in advance and block off those times, or set your alarm an hour earlier to create before the rest of the world wakes up. You can also sneak in sessions in small doses. While you’re waiting 20 minutes for dinner to cook, set a timer and go to the study and work. Then, stack in another 20 minutes right before bed. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy, undisturbed session to be effective. Make the most of those cracks of time throughout the day.
3. Self Care Is King
When I worked in tv production, I used to stuff my face with office favourites, like bagels and pizza. I then, wondered why my brain felt like mush by the end of the day. My poor diet led to a shoddy immune system, where I ended up in hospital with a serious bronchial infection. When I got this wake up call, I updated my diet to protein, greens, and lots of water. Then, my body suddenly began to love me back. My productivity surged, my mood improved, and I finally reached my potential at work.
Sleep, nutrition, and fitness are said to be the three pillars of proper self care for any productive person. It’s not just our physiques that benefit here. When we replace junk food and alcohol with fruits and veggies, our brains will immediately thank us. We’ll have more energy and be able to articulate our ideas in a clearer way. Realistically, you may not have time for a Crossfit routine everyday, but even a small amount of daily exercise like 30 minutes of yoga or fast paced walking can sharpen your focus. Combine that with at least 8 hours of nightly rest, and you’ll be soaring in your creative sessions.
4. Get With The Technical Times
The world of Technology has been a godsend to artists. It seems literally every week a new hack is released to save time and increase effectiveness in the creative game. It’s also been a source of stress and intimidation for some, especially those set in their ways. There’s nothing wrong with the old school way, but it becomes an issue if it slows things down and costs you opportunities. Making the decision to be open to new technology can change your life, and may not be that scary after all. Devoting ten minutes to an online tutorial on how to add blog content, or edit a promo video can save you the time & cost of hiring a professional. In addition, be sure to take advantage of apps, like Otter for transcription, or Evernote for organized note taking. These gems support your projects and help capture the juice of your idea when you have a flash of brilliance.
5. Organize With A Multi Pronged Approach
The basic to-do list is the tried and true way of getting things done. It helps lay out exactly what’s in front of you and prioritize accordingly so nothing slips through the cracks of your day. Try adding a few methods here to punch up productivity and make room to get even more accomplished. Implement the stack and attack method by arranging your list in a way that each task and chore fits neatly into the next. For example, when I do the laundry and know it will take an hour to dry, I stack an hour of writing in there before moving onto folding. Also, beside every list item, I write whatever my first specific step will be. For example, if ‘Pitch article to magazines’ is on my list, beside it, my first action step will be ‘Make a list of publications to pitch to.’ Breaking down tasks into bite sized pieces makes the list more achievable and less overwhelming.
6. Create A Supportive Network.
They say you’re an average of the five people you spend the most time with. Whether subconsciously or not, these people influence your behaviour, and ultimately, your life situation. Your friends needn’t be Pablo Picasso, but it’s important to find people who support your craft and have a positive attitude towards your vision. It’s also helpful to have at least one artistic ally you can have creative dialogue with, where you mutually support one another’s projects. Even if it’s a weekly coffee chat, prioritizing those conversations will help you feel inspired and secure in your journey. I have a standing Zoom call booked with an artist friend every Saturday. We discuss our ideas and try to offer one another support and advice on problem areas. I truly value this time, and it gives me a boost to have someone believe in my work.
7. Make Progress Your End Game
Perfectionism is so passé, and there’s no room for it in creativity anyway. It’s good to focus on the details, but it can be a slippery slope when we find ourselves holding back our work over things that aren’t going to make that much of a difference to long term progress. When you find yourself sucked in by the small stuff (you’ll know by the tightness in your tummy), stand back and look at the big picture, and let go of little obsessions before they immobilize your momentum.
8. Never Wait On Inspiration
If the mood has to strike before you can create, you might be waiting a long time between sessions. The key is to stare down that empty page or canvas before inspiration hits. You must allow yourself to create content that you feel isn’t so great before something really unique surfaces from your efforts. I used to think that in order for my writing to have meaning, I had to first, be moved by a sacred force where the work would flow freely. This slowed down my progress, and I soon realized it wasn’t a realistic approach. I began simply showing up everyday to do my best, even though it felt strange at first. Soon enough, articles and stories were born. Some of them weren’t bad, and they got better with time. Remember your job isn’t to create lots of amazing work. It’s to stick with it, and just create. Give the stars a chance to align so great things can eventually happen.
Creativity isn’t a mythical power that’s granted to a lucky few. It’s about continually showing up, no matter how uncomfortable it can feel at times. Applying these daily tips will help you prioritize what you really value and provide the serenity you need to let go when it’s time to connect and express. It was a creative thinker, Benjamin Franklin who said, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”