Life can sure be messy. Each day, we’re faced with a series of chaotic events that cry for our attention and ruthlessly gobble up our precious hours. The average person spends their time juggling family obligations and work responsibilities while trying to squeeze in exercise and some level of rest. Add in unexpected dramas and there’s no wonder why we are exhausted human beings. Any free moments we do have are often squandered on social media so whatever precious time is left is easily lost forever at the bottom of a never-ending news feed.

Tomorrow the same pattern will repeat, frustrations will grow and we’ll wonder why we can’t complete the creative endeavors we set out to accomplish. There simply are not enough hours in the day! becomes our hopeless mantra.

It can often feel like there are not enough hours in the day alien illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

Are there really not enough hours in the day? There are mere mortals among us who possess the same number of earth hours yet produce a phenomenal volume of work. They seem to have figured out how to harness their time more effectively. Enter Tim Ferriss, the New York Times best-selling author, marketing guru and entrepreneur who is perhaps most renowned for his examination of the tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world class performers. According to Ferriss, “not enough time means unclear priorities.”

Similarly, Derek Sivers, a philosophizing programmer and entrepreneur, who is featured in Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans believes busy equals out of control. “Every time people contact me, they say, ‘look, I know you must be incredibly busy…’ and I always think, ‘No, I’m not. I’m in control of my time, I’m on top of it. Busy, to me, seems to imply out of control.'”

Today, ‘How are you?’ is usually met with the standard response: “Busy. Sooo, busy.” These proclamations of busyness are worn like a badge of honor. But why? According to Ferriss, “If I’m ‘busy’ it is because I’ve made choices that put me in that position.”

busy alien illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

If ‘busyness’ is self-inflicted, why do we take a strange sense of pride in the fact we have resigned ourselves to wade through reams of endless to-do lists and unsavory tasks? And why don’t successful people seem to be drowning in a sea of busy?

Let’s explore the daily habits of successful creatives

When you look closely, the common denominator among the majority of people who get sh*t done is a daily routine—more importantly, sticking to it.

Let’s delve into the daily habits of successful creatives to understand what steps you can take to establish daily habits and reclaim some of your precious hours.

First up is Alex Mathers, a self-taught illustrator and writer who has written extensively on the subject of productivity and how creative beings can unleash their creative potential upon the world. “Taking action trumps all the planning and learning, fidgeting and worrying you will ever do, “Mathers says. “Art will not materialise, life will not get organised, connections will not be made, if you are not taking conscious action steps, big and small, with consistency and self-discipline: exerting boundaries, control, limits and rules on oneself, in order to make positive changes. And yes, you can maintain your level of creativity (if not hugely improve it), with self-discipline.”

Chamber of lists illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

Today, he says, “I’m never really overwhelmed, and I rarely feel as if I lack time. In fact, some days I feel as though I have more time than I need.” However, this was not always the case. He too, previously struggled to harness his time and energy and not submit to the endless distractions that fill an everyday life. So what changed?

Mathers realized that his habits were an obstacle to getting where he wanted to be. So he made a conscious decision to change them. To get back in control of how he used his time, he became extremely strict with how much time he allocated to certain things, specifically:

  • How much time he spends watching videos or movies
  • When and how often he engages with social media
  • When (and what) he eats and how late he goes to sleep

Mathers created a list of rules for himself which he consults on a daily basis. Although this is not a set routine, his personal list of rules provides him with scaffolding that holds up his day, around which he can carve out time for creative pursuits and which dissuades him from falling prey to lazy habits.

Next up is Haruki Murakami, a Japanese novelist, short story writer, and essayist who adheres to a strict daily routine rather than a set of written rules: “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” For Murakami, it is not the routine itself that is the important thing. The routine is merely a stepping stone to a deeper state of being which enabled him to do his best work.

cartoon character frustrated with work
Illustration by Sarah Healy

This leads me to Steven Pressfield, an American author who wrote The War of Art in addition to historical fiction, non-fiction and screenplays. Pressfield also stresses the importance of sitting down each day and consistently doing your work.

In his words, “When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us… we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” In his work The War of Art Pressfield introduces us to the forces at play which attempt to prevent you from doing good work. He calls these invisible, but strongly felt forces “the resistance.”

Daily routines, therefore, serve a dual purpose:

  1. They help to develop the discipline and consistency necessary to begin and complete all creative endeavors
  2. They pave the road to a deeper state of being and deeper thoughts, which is a stepping stone to creating great work

What action steps can you take to begin a daily habit or to begin developing discipline? Daily routines are akin to layers in a photoshop file, it takes many, many layers merged over time to create a final polished masterpiece.

what is my why illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

Here are five steps to get you started:

Step 1:  Start with why

Write down exactly why you want to establish a routine. What do you hope to achieve by doing so? When the urge to quit rears its ugly head, motivation wanes and you just don’t feel like doing it anymore turn back to your “why.”

Bruce Lee, an actor, martial artist and philosopher was acutely aware of the power of writing down ‘why’ and taking the time to self-reflect. The process of writing down our goals generates belief in ones self, which is the key to success.

Step 2:  Get ready to struggle

There is often a perception that being a professional creative must be lots of fun. Sure, it can be fun, but “professional” means consistently doing the work whether you feel inclined to or not. There is not a lot of room for waiting for inspiration to strike.

As Chris Fox, an author of over 30 books (and he isn’t even 40) concisely puts it, “Understand that this is going to take a massive amount of sustained effort. Many of us assume that because we like writing it will be easy, or fun. It is occasionally fun, but never easy.”

self-commitment illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

Step 3: Make a commitment to yourself

I made an unwritten rule with myself a few years ago. I decided that if I said I was going to do something, then I had to do it. If the words escaped from my mouth, they were set in concrete and now had no option but to be realized.

Research shows that it takes 21 days to form a habit, after which we use less mental energy to decide whether or not to do the task—we go on autopilot of sorts. What would happen if you committed to something for 30 days? Could you form a new habit each month? This could potentially lead to 12 new habits a year, or a sustained action to build upon your daily routine.

You get to decide what kind of person you wish to be. Are you someone who carves out time to actively pursue better habits or one who easily succumbs to lazy habits?

cartoon character using calendar illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

Step 4: Put it on the calendar

The next step is to block out time in your calendar for your priorities. For example, you may factor in two hours of writing every morning or a one-hour workout. Factoring this time into your calendar ensures that these are the most important tasks of the day and must be given priority over other tasks that are less important.

Step 5:  Go forth and play!

To remain constantly in work mode is draining both for you and for those around you. It can also be counter productive to the creative process. A brain that is tired and exhausted is less likely to generate fresh and exciting ideas.

It is as important to be able to switch out of work mode, as it is to switch into it. This is where habits and routines come into play. When you have completed your set hours of work for the day you can switch off and enjoy your ‘free’ hours recovering and recharging for tomorrow’s effort.

This means stepping away from the screen, going outside, spending time in nature or with family and friends.

cartoon characters playing illustration
Illustration by Sarah Healy

While rigidly sticking to a routine may seem boring and even counterproductive to the entire creative process, working consistently instills a discipline that will enable us to do our best work.

Jocko Willink a renowned Navy SEAL who co-authored the New York Times bestseller Extreme Ownership: How U.S Navy SEALs Lead and Win says that discipline equals freedom. This advice transcends creative disciplines and can be implemented by anyone trying to form better daily habits. Although freedom from responsiblities and goals may appear idyllic, when there is no shape to your day it can actually be paralyzing. “If you want freedom in life, be it financial freedom, more free time, or even freedom from sickness and poor health, you can only achieve these things through discipline,” Willink writes.

Tap into the power of a daily routine

Prescheduled workouts, routines and habits create a framework for your life. They enable your mind to go beyond the many, many daily decisions we are faced with into deeper, more important questions.

“The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery,” says Steven Pressfield. “Those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”

At the time of writing this, there are 250 days, 6016 hours, 360983 minutes and 21658998 seconds until 2019. How will you use it? What will you create?

Time is our most precious commodity, spend it wisely.

About the author

Sarah Healy is a freelance writer, designer, and adventurer. She has worked in animation studios creating award winning apps, and for large corporations helping them to tell their unique story through branding and visual creations. She can usually be found competing in ultra-marathons or undertaking crazy bike expeditions and is currently traversing Australia with little more than a backpack and a smile.