How to bolster your creativity with a solid daily routine

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What’s one of the biggest challenges you face as a creative?

Ridding yourself of distraction? Getting enough work? Or over-stretching yourself with too much?

Every creative practitioner, whether self-employed or not, faces challenges like these. We’ve been thinking about how to tackle this stuff lately, and we’ve found a little bit of solace in one remarkably simple factoid.

You can cut these problems down to size with one simple thing: a rock-solid daily routine.

Unconvinced? Hear us out. There are layers to a good routine, all of which have a ripple effect across your entire practice. In the modern world, we’re so busy that we sometimes don't even notice how we spend our workday. The art of the good daily routine is a lost one.

Why sort out your routine?

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A daily routine isn’t a luxury. It’s a precursor for good work to get done consistently.

You can be creative while working in a slapdash, impulsive way. But you won’t be able to sustain that for long. When the inspiration dies, you’ll be back to the drawing board with a head full of anxiety.

The quality of your work often depends on a sound routine. You might fear being stifled by a plotted-out schedule. But what you'll find is that you can thrive by carefully structuring your precious time.

Let’s take a look at some good resources and get the juices flowing.

99U: Manage Your Day-to-Day

99U is an Adobe-run online resource that focuses on providing specific, career-focused guidance and advice for designers and other creative professionals. The site has plenty of helpful resources kicking around, but one particular standout from their book series is a little gem called Manage Your Day-to-Day. (Listen to the book's editor, Jocelyn K. Glei, talk about it above.)

Throughout the book, there’s a variety of incisive details geared at helping you build an effective routine that maximises creativity. It’s packed with insight after insight from experts whose work spans countless artistic media. It's an illuminating, fresh take on creativity in the Internet age that all creatives should read.

Daily Routines: How Artists Work

Mason Currey's acclaimed book Daily Routines: How Artists Work proves there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting a routine that works. It documents the working habits of some of the world’s most renowned writers, musicians, and thinkers.

Podio went ahead and created this visual you might’ve seen from the book’s content. It lays out the day-to-day travails of everyone from Kafka to Freud to Mozart.

Looking at the graphic, what strikes you is that hardly any of these wildly successful creatives look, on paper, like workaholics. Virtually all of them manage to put away serious chunks of the day for socialising, exercise, or just general mindless leisure.

Case in point: in the period the graph reflects, Picasso didn’t start his workday until 4 in the afternoon. He slept in until 10:30, then spent a few hours having breakfast and hanging out with friends. And this is the guy who produced approximately 50,000 artworks in his lifetime.

This is proof that as long as you have a solid routine in place, you can crank stuff out at a pace that'll surprise you. And you won’t have to give up your social life.

The ever-looming threat of distraction

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But when you’re getting pulled from one project to the next, it can be incredibly difficult to stick to the game plan. This is especially true in the cutthroat world of film and TV. You’re expected to be reachable at all hours of the day. Often, there’s not a lot you can do about that.

To some degree, you are at the mercy of other people’s expectations. But that’s the thing: to some degree. That’s where you can make a distinction. You’re at other people’s mercy only to the degree to which you need to be.

You’re a creative professional. No surprises you want to convey your professionalism and be available to talk to your team or clients whenever they want.

But what about the creative side of things? Shouldn’t you reserve at least some of your time and energy for the sake of your own creativity, and that alone? After all, this is the skill-set you’re building your entire profession out of. Shouldn’t you exercise that whenever you can?

THE FOCUS BLOCK

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One of the best revelations in Manage Your Day-to-Day comes in the way some of its authors interpret the idea of blocked-off, distraction-free time. In a chapter called “Scheduling in Time for Creative Thinking”, Georgetown University professor Cal Newport poses the idea of a “focus block” - i.e. treating certain times of the day as though they’re pre-booked.

“The focus block method leverages the well-understood concept of the pre-scheduled appointment,” he writes. “It has you block off a substantial chunk of time, most days of the week, for applying sustained focus to your most important creative tasks.”

Sound simple? Think again.

Blocking off time... is only half the battle. The other half is resisting distraction. This means no email, no Internet, and no phone. This sounds easy in theory, but can be surprisingly hard to embrace in practice.
— Cal Newport in "Manage Your Day-to-Day"

Finding your distraction-free zone

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There are lots of stories about how accomplished creatives have gone to all kinds of drastic measures to break free of distraction. But you don’t have to take Henry David Thoreau’s example and relocate to a hut in the forest in order to find your creative zen.

One thing you can do, once you’ve built up enough of a portfolio and are getting consistent work, is rent an office or workspace. Rent your own Walden Pond. Keep it sparse - don’t furnish it with anything you don’t need. Don’t invite anyone in there. Keep it to yourself.

Demarcate your focus block times for the week and spend all of them in your workspace, completely unreachable. The results will impress you.

Enjoying yourself

Take a leaf out of Picasso’s book. Reserve enough time for socialising, or even just doing small, mindless things that you enjoy and find replenishing. You’re not a machine.

You can’t expect to crank out good creative work if you’re not giving yourself time to just chill out.

Making it happen

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And if all this sounds like some kind of pie-in-the-sky idealism, fair enough. It’s possible you’re overworked, underpaid and exhausted, and some of these goals won’t be realistic right now.

But hopefully, you'll relate to the importance of structure and balance throughout each day. You can gradually incorporate more time for unbridled creativity and fostering that spirit as much as you possibly can.

Because that’s why you got into this in the first place, right?