An artist sets foot in a vintage study. He just woke up from a weird dream about goats gliding on a roller coaster. No, wait, it wasn’t a roller-coaster. It was just a few wavy tracks, like train tracks in the air, and the goats hung about them as if they were on a zip-line. They were white, like goats are, but the sound coming out of their muzzle was different. Was it a roaring sound? No, they spoke human. They spoke about the end of the world, and then, and then….sunlight!
This artist strolls towards his work-table, scribbles down a few sketches from this dream, learns everything there is to learn about ziplines and goats and the idea of animals speaking like humans. He collects this information and floods numerous ideas on the paper in the form of words, doodles, paintings, formulas, and comics. Hours pass by, and at the end of the day, his chest swells with pride, for he has produced a brilliant piece of work.
The next day is the same, and so is every other day, until eternity.
That’s the dream, isn’t it?
But does it always happen like this?
Creative people are often moody. They find inspirations suddenly, and find those inspirations walk out of rooms just as quickly. They are distracted, workaholic, but not always. Routine is loathsome. They attempt winning over the fear of failure often. And it is hard, very hard to produce good work regularly. But if they don’t, they lose.
They lose their practice, training, efficiency, and chances of making it big in any domain whatsoever.
What should they do then?
They should set up a routine.
You mean, they should work around the clock?
But doesn’t that mean their art becomes just any other job in the world?
It becomes a job, sure. But not necessarily any other job.
It is a given that you need to practice your art routinely in order get better at your craft, no matter how painful it may seem on many days.
What should this artist do then, to retain his thrill of the job while also maintaining a routine?
Is it even possible?
It may seem impossible at first, but if you put your mind into it, you can turn around this process to unleash your greatest potential.
I am going to share some of my attempts at creative routine that changed and evolved over time.
Hourly time-bound tasks Everyday
This is how most people tend to work. You assign a particular time to every thing you do. Let’s say you start working at 9 in the morning. You write your book from 9–12. You then maybe take a coffee break, and work on your blog for the next 2 hours. You then take lunch, read for 2 hours. Then you send out your regular social media post or email. Then you work two hours on design or whatever else, and you are done.
Simple routine. But doesn’t work for everybody. DID NOT for me. I found myself staring at the clock, moving around my desk, getting restless for breaks, and getting lured by the next task on the list, ultimately giving up the focus and character.
Work-Bound Tasks Everyday
To fix the amount of work you wish to accomplish everyday could be another measure. To write a 1000 words of your book. To generate one social media post. Respond to all emails. To read 50 pages everyday. Make one piece of art, and so on. One could combine this in a sequence. And perform the tasks in a fixed sequence everyday, rather than being bound by time.
This could function for most people, as long as the tasks are sequential. It worked partly for me. The catch here was the same tasks working out every single day, and no freedom of exploring random stuff.
Weekly Work-Bound Tasks
Keeping work-bound weekly goals rather than everyday goals. This does not work most of the time without a plan.
What you can do here is set a fixed clock for each task. For example, every time you sit to write, you ARE SUPPOSED to finish 2000 words of work. Every time you play guitar, you HAVE to play it for 30 mins. Such minimized chunks of goals can help you accomplish all tasks on the list. There might be some issues here though. For, if you write your 7000 weekly words in one day, you won’t be writing for the next 6 days. This could affect the novel or piece you are working on. Such long gaps might be undesirable. So, if you tend to set weekly goals, follow through them in a way that you do at least one prior task every day. If writing is your priority, write every day. If doodling is your priority, do that every day. Design the plan accordingly.
Distributed Everyday Tasks with Variation
Here, you could have particularly assigned tasks for each day of the week. These could also be work-bound. For example, to produce one design piece every Friday. OR to produce two design pieces every week, say Wednesday and Friday.
Challenges and Benefits of these planners
Each creative individual will have different ways of operating. One approach won’t work for everyone every time.
People who can have strict time-bound tasks, while idealistic, must be rare in creative industry. If you are the kind of person who can focus your attention on a task for long intervals, well, congratulations for pulling this off.
As for the weekly-bound tasks, it is difficult to manage the chaos. If you are highly productive and have no issues with juggling work, maybe this works for you, but for most people, this last segment will work the best.
THE BEST ALTERNATIVE
The last block- Distributed Everyday Tasks with Variation, worked for me for some time. You can use the following tools to make it work best for yourself:
- Prioritize your tasks based on how much and how often you need them done
2. Choose the task you wish to perform on each weekday. Keep it dynamic to add variety.
3. Decide the rough amount of work you expect from each task every week
4. Make a chart that works for you, but is flexible
Now, this is something you build for yourself. Only keeping a few things in mind is essential here:
- The way you work should be fun for YOU. If you have any doubts about a particular task, you should study those doubts before commiting.
- Flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean you remain disorganized. It just means you have more space to tinker around. Just keep some time free in your schedule for your random explorations, as is necessary for your creative essence to bloom. I keep most Sundays free, except writing and reading. You could try that for two days a week with whatever you do.
- A sequential work-flow maybe more effective than time-bound flow. Setting time restrictions like “no internet before 6 pm”, or “no meetings before 4”, keeps you focused and not-distracted.
- Design your schedule the way you want to live your life. Don’t wait for things to change. Just do what you feel is the right way of working RIGHT NOW. If you want to start your day by walking down the streets sketching people, do that before anything else. If you want to play some music before getting into the creation of your oeuvre, do that. Just play with your life and how you plan it. EXPERIMENT!
- Having a schedule is less risk to your creativity than having no schedule at all.
Personally, I find it impossible to schedule my life around creative tasks for more than one or two days or sometimes, luckily, a week. How do you schedule creativity?
If you also face a similar challenge, there could be some ways to work around it.
Rather than devising schedules, I devise rules for my everyday work.
For example, I make sure the first task I do after getting out of bed is to work on the book I am writing, and the last task, before going to bed, is to read for at least an hour on the best nights, and half an hour on the worst. One important rule that I practice is “No Internet Hours”. Every day, no matter what day of the week, for 6 hours, the internet is turned off from my computer and mobile. It is 12–6 for me, but you can choose yours according to your need. In these hours, because you are cut off from any interaction with the world, your work, no matter what it is, becomes focused, and requires lesser time to complete.
You are free to experiment with these rules the way that fits you best.
Do share with me the creative scheduling habits that work for you.