Part Five: 5 Steps for Creating a Routine that Works

Every morning I wake up, brush my teeth, and get on the mat. I practice yoga for a minimum of 30 minutes. Then, I make tea or coffee and sit down to write.

This is my morning routine. It’s the one I’ve evolved over time so I can write every day and continue to work toward achieving my creative goals. It’s automatic, efficient and yields results. Do I produce at optimum levels every day? No. But, I still make daily progress on my creative projects. It doesn’t matter if I write five words or 500, it’s something. And, because it happens at the same time every day, I never have to stress about when it’s going to get done.

This is a good thing. It feels good to be and stay productive. I’ve become expert at recognizing the nuances of this routine. So adept, in fact, that a few months ago I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. I noticed that the collection of daily habits I’d carefully constructed and cultivated over many moons was also becoming…mindless.

The word “yoga” has a Sanskrit root that means, “union.” It’s the practice of joining mind and body together as one, in the moment. The studio I sometimes frequent literally has, Be Here Now, emblazoned on one of its four walls. Friends, there is no yoga pose out there that is more difficult for me to grasp than this seemingly simple concept.

When I first started practicing yoga (almost four years ago), I couldn’t possibly consider a world where I would not be hanging on an instructor’s every word as I painstakingly attempted to twist myself into a pretzel. As he/she stood on their head and gently reminded the class to bring our thoughts back to center I would think, “Um, not going to be a problem.”

Except, the more my skills improved, the more the instructor’s words started to make sense. As the poses became easier, my practice became more fluid and so did my thoughts. Suddenly, Downward Dog became the place where I devised a grocery list, and Pigeon pose an opportunity to think through a client’s design solution. I was missing the point in a big way.

Part Five: Level Up

In 1993, The Paris Review interviewed Toni Morrison about her writing life. In the interview, Morrison described an activity she engaged in every morning before sitting down to write. She explained that she woke early in the morning, before first light, made a cup of coffee and watched the sun rise. She said:

Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process.

Morrison called this a ritual, a way for her to purposefully transition from one world to another. I loved this when I read it, specifically because it highlights the importance of being present, of being mindful rather than mindless about the way we approach our creative lives.

I like to think of a ritual as a signal of intent, a way to inspire spiritual fulfillment, rather than focusing solely on sustainable productivity. Like habits, rituals are repetitive, but not mechanical. Instead, they elevate our routines and infuse a little more meaning into the everyday by clearing away the distractions and giving our creativity room to flow.

You might already be engaging in an activity that could be considered a ritual. For example, I added a walk to my routine several months ago because I wanted to include a daily cardio component to my workout (and because I sit for most of the day). Now, I consider it an essential part of my creative process. On the days when I’m blocked, the fresh air and exercise clears my mind and helps me generate new ideas.

Apparently, I’m in good company. Here are some examples of rituals adopted by some of history’s most influential artists and thinkers:

  • Beethoven counted out 60 beans every day for his morning coffee
  • Tchaikovsky believed if he ended his daily two hour walk early then, “great misfortunes would befall him.”
  • Jane Austen used to write in the same room where her mother sewed.
  • Swedish filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman ate the same lunch every day before getting to work
  • No matter the weather, Benjamin Franklin spent most of his mornings naked (yes, really)

Whatever you choose, a ritual should be something that’s personal and meaningful for you. To level up my at-home yoga routine, I light a candle before every session and repeat my core affirmations with a breath in between to make sure they sink in. This is my way of giving my brain permission to pause whatever has already been percolating and focus on the here and now. Then, at the end of the session I lift the blinds on all the windows in my living room and let some light in.

Not only does this put me in the right head space, but it gives me the positive energy I need to see the day through, without getting tripped up by too many details and distractions. It also ensures that a client who’s unhappy with their system’s configuration doesn’t become DEFCON 1 in my mind but instead, prepares me to handle his/her concerns with patience and professionalism.

Rituals not only make my yoga and writing practices better, but they make me better. They instill a sense of calm and empower me to do and be my best. And isn’t that what we all hope to achieve by initiating a creative routine in the first place? To establish a means to produce work we can be proud of and that feeds us, mind, body, and soul?

That’s my hope, anyway, and my wish for you.

How did you like this series? Did it result in a renewed commitment to your passion projects? If so, drop me a comment and tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Until then, keep creating.



2 thoughts on “Part Five: 5 Steps for Creating a Routine that Works

  1. I love the word ‘mindless’ (even though your post was more about being mindful). That word alone triggered so many ideas in my head, of how I live through my routines too. That’s why they say discipline is freedom. These days, I just work out. That’s it. I don’t think of a routine, psych myself up, or take pre-workouts. I just do it, because it’s something I do without thinking now.

    I still am mindful that this is me, and I want to do it. But the doing part has gone into autopilot, and that’s what keeps me sustaining this healthy habit.

    Anyway, thanks for this post!


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