Yikes! I know you see it. I do too – those two bad words sticking out like a sore thumb: self-centered, and routine. Terrible title, isn’t it? I’m hoping that after reading the clusters of paragraphs I have laid out in front of you, you will re-discover the meaning for both. The truth is, it’s okay to prioritize you. You should be at the center of your life. What does that mean? Your visions come before the visions of others. Additionally, having a routine doesn’t mean your life is suddenly void of any ounce of fun or spontaneousness. I am here to share with you how I have learned to master the routine, and put myself at the center of it, each and every day, and how that alone has allowed me to put my dreams on a pedestal and accomplish them.
The Daily Routine
Creative visionaries, like you and me, live each day hoping to one day stand with greatness. Their secret weapon, that is often left unspoken, the rule that both Woody Allen and Ernest Hemmingway adhere to is the daily routine. Hemingway wrote 500 words a day, rain or shine. Allen once said that success is 80% showing up. If you want to create something worthwhile in your lifetime, if you want to write things, make things, do things, be things – you need not wait for inspiration to come knocking. Honey, you break that door down. You show up, and you work.
Habit and Discipline
I have often whined to friends of creative dry spells. For years, in fact, I did not write, and you know what? I hadn’t done a damn thing about it. Today I know that it wasn’t inspiration I was lacking, but habit and discipline. The hardest decision then becomes not the writing itself but prioritizing it over everything and everyone else. And, indeed, it is a hard decision to make, but a necessary one if you want to accomplish the things you wish to accomplish in your life. When I wrote and published my first book, I had so much fire in my heart, but few responsibilities. So, naturally, it was easy for me to say, “Hey, I’m going to write this book, and I officially don’t give a shit about anything else until it’s finished.” And, guess what? I finished it. In fact, I did almost nothing but write for days on end. I skipped meals. I took a pen and paper into the bathroom – yes, I know, gross. I was so immersed in my book, that I didn’t care very much about anything else. I didn’t have nearly as many bills to pay or obligations to fulfill as I do now. So, as you can imagine, it has become increasingly harder for me to reach similar heights of creative productivity (or, Creative “Zen”, as I like to call it), and even harder for me to prioritize me when the rest of the world needs me. Now, more than ever, I realize habit and discipline are the true keys to any craft.
The hard part is often not our needs, but the needs of others. Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken. Thankfully for us, in no way are these measures truly drastic. All you have to do is pick a few hours out of your day where you become unavailable. For a few hours, at dawn or dusk, you simply fall off the face of the earth. No phone, no e-mail, no social media – you become completely unavailable. Put that worry out of your mind! I know you’re feeling it – I promise, you won’t miss anything. That’s the truth! That text message isn’t dire, neither is your boss’s e-mail. I’m sure by now you’ve realized just how unpopular this decision will make you. Listen, they will survive without you for a few hours, and if they’re sensible human beings, or give a crap about you, they’ll understand. The irony of worrying about the priorities of others is that you actually miss out on yours.
Now on to the novel you’re trying to write, or the business you’re trying to build – can you work on it every day? For any day that you can work, you probably should. If you can watch a film for an hour, or play a video game, or skim through your social media feeds (I see you!), you can surely work. Let’s say you work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Heck, let’s say 10, because of traffic, bad breakfast digestion, and your offspring. That leaves you 14 hours. Of course, you must sleep, so now you have 6 hours left. Give yourself 1/2 of that time to food, friends, and family, and you’re left with 3. Most days, try to dedicate 2 of them to your dreams, your goals, your creative aspirations, but 1 is more than enough. Of course, your routine will fit your unique life, and meet your specific goals, and sometimes an hour just isn’t realistic. At the end of the day, it really comes down to using that creative mind of yours and making time. Buy a crockpot. Talk to your loved ones. Can they help you make time? It’s going to come down to planning, prioritizing, and persistence. If you can sit down and write your novel for 15 minutes, that is certainly better than none, and making that commitment, no matter how small, is what leads to results.
You’re Not Actually Showing Up If You’re Not Working
The real question is, how can you make the most of those precious 15 minutes? Right away, I must say, there is no point in showing up at all if you’re not prepared to work. Yes, 80% of success is showing up, but you’re not actually showing up if you’re not working. You’re not showing up by sitting on that fat bum of yours and sulking. If that’s the case, you really could be doing something else! (Frankly, I recommend going for ice cream.) Before I discourage you, there are ways to show up, every day, with a stellar game plan, regardless if you’re there for 15 minutes or 15 hours (I’ve done this – I don’t recommend it.)
Although detailed daily planners are a great investment to improve organization and time management in your life, they’re often only as effective as how realistic you are about the time and energy you have, as well as the effort required to complete your tasks. I love planners, but I don’t necessarily believe they actually help me become more productive or useful. For most of us, things naturally get done when they need to be done, and planners can only do so much for laziness. Although it does help me keep track of my day-to-day needs, I believe there is a subtle illusion of productivity attached to them. There is a lot of instant gratification in putting a check mark next to a task you’ve completed. All I’m asking of you is a small, realistic – emphasis of realistic, list of goals for the day. On this list, in a small outline of the tasks, you will complete for your creative work. Keep in mind that most things can wait until tomorrow, and there is really no purpose is doing things before they need to get done.
Set Firm Edges
I think in a lot of ways, it’s safe to say that creative work doesn’t necessarily bode well with classic concepts of professionalism. This section is all about why I think multitasking prevents us from reaching our ultimate potential as creative visionaries. I don’t think that professionalism necessarily creates forward-thinking, exceptional, remarkable, new and exciting products for us. I think saying “fuck you” to professionalism does. This is not to say that professionalism doesn’t have its own place, but the work that we’re doing – creative work – it has no place. This is not your office gig. This is not data-entry. To create something remarkable in your lifetime, you need to be at your best, bring your best, and focus all of your energy into a single entity. A great thing requires all of your power. This is essentially why setting firm edges are too important to ignore. What do I mean by firm edges? You need to be strict about when you make time for creative work and the quality of the work you’re doing during this time. Nothing is to bleed into the next section, or into the one you’re currently working in. You begin when it’s time, and you stop when it’s time, and you do nothing but what it is intended to be done during this time. In short, do not multi-task.
Most of us have a time of day in which we’re most alert and energetic. This is the best time for creative work. This is not the time for data-entry if you catch my drift. You may not realize it now, but these are truly the most valuable moments of your day. This is when you’re at your best, so anything important or difficult that needs to get done, should be done at this time. I find early mornings to be the best time for work. Preferably before the rest of the house has awoken. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and open your favorite word processor. You need to find a space where you can be with just you and your creative mind for a few minutes, or hours. Mastering this part has a lot to do with getting to know yourself. The same can be said about the next, and last section of this article.
Believe it or not, familiarity can trigger creative energy far more easily than new landscapes. When we put ourselves into a routine, giving ourselves surroundings that are familiar, it sends a trigger to our brains that say, oh! it’s time for work. It is also comfortable and puts us in a calm state. We are not busy processing and taking in all the new multi-sensory surroundings, therefore, we can focus and get to work quicker.
The Hardest Part? When It’s Time to Finally Become a Professional
Figuring out what makes you tick as an artist is only half the battle. Consider that you found your routine, you honed your craft, and you mastered your practice. Unfortunately, it’s not over. Believe it or not, the actual hard part has not even begun. No one is born a professional, in the way that some claim to be born an artist. Although an artist’s primary goal is rarely monetary gain, it is often exposure. More so, the ability to connect and relate to their audience. I think artists specifically want to reach people, and lock hearts and minds with another, even for just a moment. The problem is, in order for an artist to do this, they must actually become salesmen. They sell their ideas, their words, and, of course, themselves. There is simply no other way to reach another, without first unleashing them and becoming vulnerable. So, yes, the hardest part is becoming a professional, and what that means for artists is becoming brave.
Do you want to know what’s even harder than that – what’s harder than the hardest thing of all – an artist’s greatest fear? It is fear of being criticized and deemed a fraud – simply not being good enough. This is a shared concerned by me, you, and everyone else on earth. You’re telling the world, “Hey! I worked super hard on this! I poured my heart, soul, and literal brain into it – I kind of, sort of, believe I might possibly be good at this. Maybe, just maybe, I know what I’m talking about.” When in fact, you’re a student, like me, and it is not entirely that black and white. I am no expert, and I hope you didn’t crawl in this thick head of mine, take a seat, with hopes of being enlightened. There are no true masters here. We are all learning.
A true artist works hard at their routine, and at their craft, but even more so, accepts they have much to teach, and even more so, to learn. They know we can all become a little bit stronger, a little bit better, a little bit smarter, by opening our eyes and ears to each other.