My mom has this saying she repeats each time I call her to lament over a particularly awful day. She says, “Don’t worry, Krist. Tomorrow is a brand-new day with no mistakes in it.”
I simultaneously love and hate this phrase. Love, because it’s a reminder that every day is an opportunity. Hate, because I have to wait 24 hours for the magic of this new day to take effect.
But what if I didn’t have to? Yes, tomorrow is a new day, but what if it’s not a blank slate? Despite mom’s words of wisdom, I am fully aware not all days can be good or error-free, but what if I could proactively lay the groundwork for a day that meets my expectations, in some small way, everyday?
That’s what routine is for me. It’s the method I use to set myself up for success and ensures I’m actively working to meet my goals. If my life is a road map with thousands of intersecting streets and highways, routine is my compass. It keeps me on the straight and narrow, guiding, rather than forcing, me down the right path. Without it, I’d be lost. Well ok, without that and GPS, I mean.
One of the best things I read this week, was this short post from last year about the importance of channeling creativity through a conduit. In it, the author explains the frustration behind approaching creativity without habits. Without a tether, we float somewhere out there in the ether, never grounding our creative energies. That may be OK with the ever elusive and ethereal Muse, but real humans have to exist in this plane. We’re still bound by the desire to feel rewarded in our efforts, which we can only achieve by actually accomplishing something.
So, how do we do that? How do we establish a routine grounded in healthy, constructive habits, that supports our creative growth?
By starting at the beginning.
Part One: Aim True
I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like a fancy way of saying, “Set a Goal.” But, before you roll your eyes and scroll to the next post, hear me out. Notice that the title of this section isn’t, “Aim High.” Building a routine isn’t about taking the biggest bite out of that cookie, but a bite. Just one. I know what you’re thinking, again. Is it possible to take a single bite of a cookie and put it aside and the answer to that is, why not? Everything in moderation, right? Anyway, I digress.
Aim true, not high. What’s your purpose for establishing a new routine in the first place? Are you trying to work more creative time into your schedule? Or do you want to re-work creative time so that the time you spend with your projects is more productive? Maybe it’s the opposite, and you’re spending all of your time in your creative space, in your pj’s surrounded by Cheetos and ten empty coffee mugs and need to set some boundaries. Taking a shower at least once per day is a valid goal, friends.
Make a list of what you want to achieve this month, this quarter, this year. These can come from a list of yearly goals or be completely unrelated. Don’t think too much on the details but do take notes if you’re so inclined.
After you make this list, be honest about your priorities. This is important. You can’t achieve everything all at once so, what is the one thing you’re most desperate to change right now? Or better, what is that one challenge that would benefit most from some habitual commitment on your part? Don’t think size, but impact.
In the corporate world we call simple, impactful solutions that require less effort, Quick Wins. As a consultant, I always have one eye on the prize and the other on adding value to a client’s day-to-day operations. How can you add value to yours?
My Quick Win was a no-brainer. I wanted to write. Not just once a week or when I felt like it, but every day. At the time I set this goal a few years ago, I was working a 9-5 job for an organization that was thirty minutes from home and required a daily commute to the office. I say 9-5, but it was often expected that employees arrive by 8:30 or sometimes even earlier. We all have times in our day when we feel most productive creatively and evenings are not mine. By the time I got home, ate dinner, and cleaned up, the last thing I wanted to do was write.
That meant writing took a back seat. When I did find the time to put pen to paper, the practice felt stunted. The words just wouldn’t come and, when they did, they weren’t ever the right ones. I spent months typing and deleting my way through my writing practice which was, not only frustrating, but immensely discouraging. I wanted to start a blog, finish my novel, maybe submit short stories to a couple publications. I had goals, and I wasn’t making progress on any of them.
Let me be clear. I said above that a Quick Win requires less effort, not little effort. There’s still plenty of effort involved in writing every day, but I knew that if I was able to develop a daily writing habit, I could begin to build a routine that would help me achieve those other larger goals, too. Writing everyday was my golden ticket. If I could make that happen, I’d conquer the world! Well, at least my own dark little corner of it. Good enough.
What’s on your list? In the next post in this series we’ll, Get Real about how we’re going to achieve your goals but, right now is all about asking yourself the right questions.
Speaking of questions, is anyone else hungry? Just me? Ok well, time for a snack.