I have begun a new evening routine. After dinner, I clean up the kitchen, and then I grind the coffee beans and prep the pot for the morning. I set out the mugs and such that we’ll need in the dark of 5am, and I get Philip’s lunchbox down and onto the counter. A little planning ahead makes for a quieter morning and makes use of the time when I am not at my best – evening.
Then, when I wake in the morning, I push a button, fill the lunchbox, pour the coffee, and am off to reading and writing within a few minutes. It feels freeing, this little bit of routine.
On most of my days, I have most of my hours to use as I see fit, which is ideal for me. Too many meetings, even, and I’m overwhelmed and feel hemmed in, like someone has stitched time tight around my chest. But because of this freedom of time, I sometimes suffer from decision fatigue around how to spend my hours, a weariness about having to decide what I’m going to do with every minute.
Here is where routine frees me. When I follow simple routines, like setting the coffee the night before, and going to my desk to write (or revise as is the case right now) without getting online, I am minimizing the number of decisions I have to make per hour. I do these things by rote. Thus, I have more energy and more thinking space to give to the work itself instead of to the processes that get me to the work.
Why Routines Are Helpful for Creative People
Many, many of the creative people I know, including myself sometimes, really resist routine. We don’t like that hemmed-in feeling; we revel in the wide-open space of unscheduled time.
But without some routines, some schedules – loose and wild if need be – to help us structure our days, it can be easy for the day to feel like a series of interruptions. When we don’t hold time for the regular parts of life – unexpected technology issues, sick children, a veterinary crisis – we can very easily feel like we are constantly interrupted, constantly reacting instead of responding calmly. And we can feel like our creative work never gets to be a priority. We have to set some boundaries to keep our creativity as part of our days, even if we leave the edges of those boundaries wild.
Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I was just having one of those days when the harder parts of life felt quite heavy, and I didn’t hold my routine. I didn’t revise first thing in the morning. I didn’t stay at my desk into the afternoon. Instead, I let the revision go, and I headed to the couch to work. . . which isn’t always a bad idea but usually is when I’m not feeling super-healthy. Two people stopped by, and while I was genuinely glad to see them, I felt interrupted, disrupted because I was still trying to hold space for the revision I hadn’t done.
Last night, I realized I was quite sleep-deprived , and so I went to bed very early – 8pm. I read for a bit and then found my eyes closing by 8:30. This morning, I woke at my usual 5am and felt much better. I revised for an hour, and now I’m moving into the rest of my routine feeling more positive and far less anxious than I was yesterday, when I was so tired.
The Five Elements of My Most Healthy and Creative Routine
Here are the five things I’ve learned about myself that help me keep the wide routine that works best for my creative life:
- I am a morning person. I am out of most kinds of energy by 6pm.
- I do my best work throughout the day if I do my writing first thing.
- I need at least two days a week where I don’t have any meetings at all.
- I cannot take meetings in the morning – ever – because I need that time for my most creative work.
- I need a loose schedule for when I will get my daily things done: writing, communicating, learning, reading, and meeting.
If any of those five things goes out of whack – for example, if I take on too many volunteer opportunities – my stress level climbs, my creativity feels frantic, and I am really unhealthy. Thus, I need to hold most of my time in my weekdays so that I am alone, at home, with the hound dogs.
When I hold this routine most days, I am far less thrown-off when I need to take a dog to the vet, when friends stop by on the spur of the moment, or when I need to take an entire day to go tour a historic site. If most of my days are the ones that feed my creativity, then when life’s unexpected things arise, I can meet them with aplumb instead of resentment.
If you had to identify five insights about yourself that would help inform what routine works best for your writing life, what would they be? Yours will likely be quite different than mine, which is as it should be since we are different people with different demands on our time. Maybe you need a creative routine for the evenings or weekends around your day job? Or maybe you need to tend the space where children are present? Or maybe you work really well late at night?
Be honest with yourself and work with who you are and the realities of your life right now to write your list of five truths about your routine. Then, share them in the comments below if you’d like. I’d love to see them, and sometimes, just sharing helps us see things as more true.
On October 1, I’ll be releasing a new book entitled Discover Your Writing Self: 31 Days to Deeper Understanding of Who YOU Are as a Writer. The book is a series of lessons that focus on everything from the fear that writers often feel to the genres in which we write to the rituals around our practices to the publication and promotion decisions we all have to make. But this isn’t a how-to book. Rather, it’s designed to help you explore who you are as a writer in the world with your life as it is right now. If you’d like to be informed about when and where the book will be available, be sure to sign-up here to get my bi-weekly essays about writing and the writing life.
One thing I am learning more and more as a person who wants to reach more folks through my writing is that I need to be better at copywriting. I do the creative stuff pretty well, but the copy – the concise, catchy language that we all need to help buyers have confidence in our work – yeah, I’m not as good at that. So I’ve signed up for the FREE Copywriting Virtual Summit so I can learn from 30 of the best copywriters out there. The summit begins next week – Sept 21, 2016 – and I can’t wait to see what I learn. If you’d like to join, too, you can do so here.*
*These links are affiliate links, so if you buy anything after attending the summit, I get a commission. But you don’t have to buy a thing to get the Virtual Summit. It’s totally free.