Creativity Series part I: The freedom of routine

21 March 2017 - mindful practices

In a 3-part Creativity Series, we offer you simple ways to nurture your creative life.

“Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.” – Jeanette Winterson

Creativity is often associated with freedom, adventure and anything that expands instead of restricts. But ask any successful creative and they will tell you about the power of having a solid routine. Things like time limits and well-managed to-do lists may seem counter-intuitive to ‘creative freedom’ but are exactly what create balance and control, which in turn give you tremendous freedom in your creative life.

“Creativity is a habit,” said prolific American dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, “and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.” Building an effective routine is a personal journey that requires trial and error to figure out the combination that works best for you. Here are 7 building blocks of a solid routine that will help nurture your creativity.

1. Show up.

“Showing up is 80 percent of life,” said American filmmaker Woody Allen. Showing up—or starting—is often the most difficult thing to do because of fear. While showing up by itself isn’t enough to guarantee success, what it does guarantee is this: You have conquered a huge portion of your fears and you did not waste your potential. You have given yourself a chance to succeed.

2. Follow the rhythm of your energy levels.

In his essay ‘Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine’, Mark McGuinness writes, “Certain times of the day are especially conducive to focused creativity. Notice when you seem to have the most energy […] and dedicate those valuable periods to your most important creative work.” McGuinness suggests that we dedicate our most productive hours to creative work rather than reactive work like answering your emails or administrative tasks, which are energy drainers and can be done after.

3. Use associative triggers.

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” – Pearl S. Buck

Create conditions for productivity and use them every day. For example, if you listen to the same type of music and drink the same cup of tea before or while you do your work every day, your mind will start to associate these triggers with doing focused work. Starting at the same time every day helps train the mind too.

4. Manage your daily routine.

“Building a routine is about persistence and consistency. Don’t wait for inspiration; create a framework for it,” writes Shannah Kennedy, author of The Life Plan. She suggests 5 guiding questions to keep in mind while planning your time:

1. Will I feel that this was a day I lived well?
2. Will this move me towards my purpose, vision, values and hopes?
3. Have I made quality time for the people who are most important to me?
4. What are the rewards and consequences?
5. Have I structured calm and balance into my life?

How do we begin to manage our daily plans?

Create realistic to-do lists: Limiting your list to what you can actually accomplish allows you to better prioritise what’s really important. If you keep adding on to the list and aren’t able to complete those tasks, your motivation will plummet.
Set time limits: Create a fixed start and end time for your workday, especially if you work by/for yourself. Categorise your daily activities (e.g. creative work, administrative tasks, meetings, family time) and dedicate specific timeslots for them. These will ensure that you don’t take longer than you need to and allow you to prioritise what’s important.
Keep a record of your habits and hopes: Allocate specific timeslots for the habits you wish to cultivate. Record your hopes at the start of each month and create weekly key actions that you need to take to keep in line with those hopes.
Leave space for the unexpected: We won’t be able to be in control all the time, so ensure that you have allocated time for life’s curve balls so that they don’t overwhelm you.

How do we know if our routine is effective? "You'll know [...] when your daily schedule starts to feel less like a mundane routine and more like a creative ritual," writes McGuinness.

5. Be consistent.

Frequency—or consistency and persistence—is the key to a successful creative life. It involves taking small and steady steps towards a bigger goal. In her essay ‘Harnessing the Power of Frequency’, Gretchen Rubin writes, “What [you] do every day matters more than what [you] do once in a while. The more widely spaced your work times, the less you reap all the benefits.”

6. Make time for solitude.

Focus and renewal are vital for creativity. Carving out time alone allows us to take stock of the day. In doing that, we practise self-care and create mental conditions to start the next day afresh. Leo Babuta, author of Zen Habits, writes that being alone also teaches us how to focus as we’ll learn “how to notice the urge to switch tasks and not act on that urge, but just return your attention to the task at hand”.

7. Make time for play.

Having a routine or ritual allows you to block out time for play. This could be anything that brings you joy—watching a film, an evening with your friends or exploring a new place. New and/or pleasurable activities are great stimulants for creativity as they grant us downtime as well as the space to see things in a different light.

What tips do you have for creating a solid routine for a creative life? Let us know at

- The Mindful Company Team