When it comes to your creative life, routines may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But it’s an invaluable tool when it comes to making art frequently. Most successful creatives have developed a routine to fit their lifestyle so they can pursue their creative passions.
Before dismissing routines as too dull for a creative personality, take a look at the routines of these prolific creatives. Setting up a daily routine compatible with your lifestyle is a huge step towards realizing your artistic dreams.
I highly appreciate the daily routines of Franz Kafka and Pablo Picasso who worked late into the night and had atypical routines compared to normal people. So no worries, routines are for unconventional personalities, too!
Want to develop a better work routine? Discover how some of the world's greatest minds organized their days.
Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).
The Best routine
Despite the assumption, a daily routine doesn’t have to be strict—wake up at 4:45am, run for 30 minutes, shower and brush teeth, eat breakfast at 5:30am—though if that works for you, that’s great! (I’ll admit I’m slightly jealous if you’re able to wake up that early in the morning.)
Luckily, the best routine is one that works for you and advances you towards your important goals. It doesn’t have to be crazy strict and planned down to the last minute. If you’re wondering how to go about setting up a creative routine, check out my post so you can succeed.
Because I didn’t understand that a routine can be flexible and fit a variety of lifestyles, I opposed enforcing structure on myself, afraid the mundane would throttle my creativity.
To my chagrin, I’ve found the most productive times of my life are when I have a routine in my life that encourages me to create every single day. If I just make art whenever I’m inspired, more often than not it just doesn’t get done. Because of these periods, I’ve realized routines are not a shackle, but a useful tool. And if the greatest creatives do it, well, maybe there’s something to it after all.
Routines allow you to live your creative life by empowering you to do more in your day. Because you’re not wasting time wondering what you should do next or getting derailed by frivolities and entertainment. In fact, I would say it takes more self-discipline to pursue a creative passion while not having a routine. It’s just a lot more work.
So, for the sake of laziness, figure out your routine. It’ll save you time and effort.
Benefits In your Creative Life
Your Mind is ready to create
Routines prepare your mind and body for what comes next. Think of Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. A routine conditions you to create, based on time, location, and other factors.
If you only drink coffee while you’re painting, you’ll start to associate the taste and smell of coffee with painting. This will help shift your mind and body into your creative space. External stimuli urge you to create!
You’re also conserving mental resources for your most important tasks—like the creative process. Having a routine is like going on autopilot, so we don’t have to decide what to do next. This saves us from making decisions, which takes a lot of energy and is actually something humans are pretty bad at doing anyways.
Creating is easier
When you have a routine, you’ll find it easier to create. Partly, just because you just create so often.
For example, if you always paint at 7:00 pm after your shower, be ready to do it when the time comes. Since you paint regularly, you’ll be able to slide into your creative zone quickly and efficiently. You’ll look forward to painting and feel good when you do it.
In the meantime, your subconscious will dwell on your creative endeavors throughout the day and as you sleep. So when it actually comes time to create, you’ll find problems and insights easier since it’s something you’ve been thinking about all the time.
Your creative life becomes second nature—something you’ll be able to explore and develop with greater proficiency.
You create often and (probably) more
For a fulfilling creative life, you have to actually create. If you do a little every day, this goes a long way towards your dreams. It adds up over time. A routine helps you achieve this and leads to long term happiness.
This is one of the best reasons to have a creative routine in the first place. By creating frequently, you’ll find you’re actually creating a lot—even if you just do a little at a time. Seeing how much you accomplish is a reward in itself, but with all the practice, you’ll find yourself improving as well!
Your productivity increases
If you know you have less time to create, you’ll be more productive. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true. When you have all the time in the world, there’s no rush to get anything done. You’ll find it harder to set aside time to actually work, and you’re more likely to get distracted.
By realizing that time is limited, you’re more likely to start working. You’ll use your time wisely because you have something else to do after you’ve finished.
If there aren’t external factors limiting your time (like work, school, or kids), then it’s up to you to build the structure yourself. Set a time you work from and until and then plan something else after that. Then you know you actually have to get work done, and you’ll do it faster.
You waste Less time
It’s easy to waste time before you even get started. There are so many decisions to make: painting, drawing, photography, what music to listen to…
If you have to figure out what you’re going to do, this is going to take up some time (and mental resources)—time you could be devoting to your creative life. If you have a routine, it cuts down on your decision making and allows you to plan ahead.
Routines help you get started right away because you know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to do it. You’ll have a pre-programmed flow: work music, work time, work area. Routines are especially helpful when you have multiple projects going so you don’t have to pick which one to focus on in your “creative time.”
You focus on the important tasks
Because you’re creating every day, you’re probably talking and thinking about it more, too. This helps you figure out problems when you’re stuck and plan what to do next.
You’ll find it’s easier to make progress on your creative works as focus on the important tasks. You’ll be able to recognize what needs to be done next because you’re spending a lot of time—over a long period—thinking about what you’re doing and where the project is going.
As you become more familiar with the creative process, you’ll find it easier to identify what you need to work on and go for it. By focusing on the important tasks, you’ll work faster and more motivation you’ll have to work on your projects.
Be thoughtful in your Routine
For a long time, I saw routine as the antipathy of creativity—too much structure kills creative thinking. It kills any kind of thinking. While not completely true, this can be true.
Having a mindless routine that doesn’t optimize your time and move you towards your goals is a honeytrap. Often, people fall into a routine without even realizing it. If you wake up late, grab breakfast from the convenience store, rush to work every day, and when you come home you just plop on the couch to relax until dinner—that’s a routine.
Unfortunately, routines like this aren’t helpful and destroy creativity—and they’re difficult to escape. If your daily routine isn’t enriching your creative life, it’s hurting you. You need to change it.
Figure out what works best for you and pursue that kind of life!
Find the balance
A routine should be something you don’t have to think much about, but too much autopilot—or even being too strict with yourself—can trap you into your habits instead of freeing you to create.
Focus on the results you want to achieve, not the routine itself. If you struggle with perfectionism or OCD, watch out so you don’t fixate on the details of your routine. Your routine should be helping you live your best creative life, not another source of stress.
So put some thought into what kind of life you want to live and make your best effort—you don’t have to be perfect. Finding a balance between structure and flexibility, leisure and work is necessary for your success. Aim to challenging yourself, but be aware that overexertion will just cause burnout.
As you get comfortable with your routine, be sure to check in with periodically and look for ways to improve what you’re doing so it can better your creative life!