Part Two: 5 Steps for Creating a Routine that Works

Remember when MTV was the angst addiction go-to channel? Those of us in the no-man’s land between the Millennial and Generation X generations can certainly recall the anticipation of seeing a music video by a favorite pop artist, or the next episode of The Real World or Road Rules. It was like waking up on Christmas morning. Now, we can barely imagine waiting an entire week for an episode of anything, but back then, show night was an event. My friends and I would huddle together over a bowl of popcorn in the den, eyes glued to the television screen like the answer to all of life’s problems existed behind it.

In a way, it did. It never occurred to me to question where they found the poor souls who participated in reality tv, because it didn’t matter. I could see myself in all of them. They were all me.

The concept for The Real World was simple. As the theme song suggested, it was about, “seven strangers, picked to live in a house and have their lives taped to find out what happens, when people stop being polite and start getting real.” The real part was what caused all the drama, of course, but I’d like to think that in addition to all the bad habits we picked up from shows like these, we picked up a few good ones too. Like what it actually means to practice “getting real,” in our everyday lives. How can we be and stay honest, without alienating ourselves in the process?

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of digging deep to identify your Quick Win. What is the one commitment you could make, the one challenge you could rise to, that would make the most impact in your creative life?

A couple years ago, mine was writing every day. I knew that if I could establish a daily writing routine, I could enhance and advance my practice to the next level. I just had to make it happen.

Part Two: Get Real

My official title at the company where I work my day job is, “Solutions Architect.” Of all the titles I’ve ever held in my professional life (and there have been many), I find this one to be the most accurate. Just like an architect considers all aspects of a structure and its surroundings before creating a design, I need to understand a client’s business before I can configure project management software for the way they like to work. My colleagues and I call the information gathering period of any client project, Discovery. It’s where we learn about and document all the client’s requirements, their must-haves for any solution we’ll eventually design. Before I can build, I need to envision a solution. I need to have a plan. And I can’t do that until I have all the information. Once I have the details, I can make more informed decisions about what to do next.

The same holds true when you want to develop a habit. First, do the research. Because I wanted to begin a daily writing practice, I needed to first look at how I was spending my time. What did my mornings look like? My evenings? I’d tried this before with less than stellar results. Why didn’t it work? What did I miss?

The parallel between asking myself these questions and sometimes doing the same for the characters I write wasn’t lost on me. Research is a key component of the writing process but, if I’m being completely honest, it’s not my favorite part. I often debate this with my writing mentor who, even with three published books to her name and a fourth on the way, admits how easy it is for her to spend whole days lost in the research. It’s one of the things she loves most about writing, and it shows. She’s master at choosing a significant historical event and building a story around it in way that’s both fascinating and relevant.  She knows her stuff, and it’s because she puts in the time needed to understand the details.

The effort is worth it. Doing this for a week or a month can yield surprising results. Once you begin to document how you spend your time, you’ll start to see patterns and rhythms you hadn’t noticed before and, more importantly, where you can make time for the pursuits that matter to you. It doesn’t have to take long. It only took this one author three minutes a day to understand her schedule in a more meaningful way. Logging time spent on various activities throughout the day allowed her to not only identify inefficiencies, but opportunities.

If you’re trying to fit more creative time into your schedule, this is what you want. Even if you’re trying to accomplish the opposite, it’s still what you want. Even if you’re a creative overachiever, you’re still likely to, at some point, do something other than create. How are you spending that time? Can it be repurposed in a way that adds more value? Analyze the facts but try to do it in a way that doesn’t invite judgment.

Write down not only how much time you spend on certain activities, but also how you feel while doing them. I read about this concept recently, and it’s something I wish I had thought about when I was working toward building a daily writing habit. We all have times during the day when we’re naturally more focused, but have you ever stopped to consider when that is for you?

For example, my mind is clearest first thing in the morning. It’s when I’m most energetic and productive. In the afternoons I’m generally more distracted, sometimes even a little listless. Because my day starts at 5:30am most mornings, by 4pm I’m already thinking about shutting down and switching to decompress mode.

Of course, I know this now, but I didn’t then. I was just beginning to understand how I was spending my time and what that meant for building a constructive creative routine. There were also things I couldn’t or didn’t want to change. I wanted to see friends and family as much as possible, and I needed to work full time so we could pay the bills and take care of our home. Once I had a fresh perspective, I could figure out how to make the most of the time I had.

Try it. Do a deep dive into how you spend your days and let me know what you find out. Did this exercise work for you? Were there any surprises?

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll make all this discovery actionable, and I’ll share some of my most effective strategies for getting rid of enough of the clutter to give our creative lives room to grow.

Until then, dream BIG.



3 thoughts on “Part Two: 5 Steps for Creating a Routine that Works

  1. Yeah, I spend too much time on social media for my own good. It’s not that I do it in long stretches either. Fifteen minutes here or there do add up to precious hours I could’ve used on more important things. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tell me about it! Of course, social media marketing is something completely different, but I get it. Scrolling just for the sake of scrolling is a real time suck. Timeboxing is one of the methods I use to avoid this. More on that in my next post. Thanks for reading, Stuart!


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