Wellness

Yes, Routine Is The Answer To Creativity

Forget the stereotype of the freewheeling artist. It turns out routine is the key to creativity.

By Lara Robertson

Wellness

Forget the stereotype of the freewheeling artist. It turns out routine is the key to creativity.

By Lara Robertson

American novelist Patricia Highsmith ate bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning. Former US President Barack Obama had a wardrobe full of identical suits. And you’re probably familiar with journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson’s infamous, drug-addled daily routine, starting at three in the afternoon. It may seem counter-intuitive, but establishing habits for the more mundane aspects of your life can actually help boost creativity.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg argues that establishing routines for the necessary aspects of your day-to-day life, like sleeping, eating and exercise, can actually help create more space in your brain for more important thoughts.   

“When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making,” Duhigg writes. “It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”

Most people tend to think of creatives as free spirits who shun structure and schedules. However, throughout history, many of the world’s most famous creatives stuck to the same daily routine – which became paramount to their productivity. Once a routine becomes second nature, there’s a lot more time and energy left to focus on your work. After all, it’s pretty hard to finish writing that book chapter when you’re too busy worrying about what to cook for dinner.  

Illustrations: Patti Andrews

In an interview with the Paris Review, the prolific and bestselling novelist Haruki Murakami revealed how his daily routine played an important role in his creative process. “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours,” he said. “In the afternoon, I run for 10 kilometres or swim for 1500 metres (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerise myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

Celebrated poet, singer, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou also described her daily routine in an interview with the Paris Review. “I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution,” she said. “Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning.”

While having a daily routine reduces the number of decisions you have to make and can help boost your creativity, it’s important not to go overboard. As many creatives know, putting too much pressure on yourself to stick to a routine can actually stifle creativity. One person’s ideal daily routine will vastly differ from another’s, but here are four universal top tips to keep in mind when planning your daily routine:

4 Tips To Developing A Good Routine

  • Make time for exercise: Whether it’s early morning, in your lunch break or late afternoon, it’s well established that most people should aim to get around 30 minutes of exercise a day. It not only helps your physical and psychological wellbeing, but can help you get a better night’s sleep, too.
  • Get enough sleep: Sure, some people can get by on just four hours of sleep a night, but most people need at least eight hours. For the best quality sleep, try not to look at a screen right before you go to bed, or as soon as you get up.
  • Stick to your sleep schedule: Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day stabilises your body clock, and tells your brain when it’s time to go to bed, and when it’s time to get up. No more groggy mornings!
  • Give yourself enough down time: Despite running an entire country, former US President Barack Obama always made sure to put aside an hour or so every night, where he would lock himself away to watch sport, read and think. Whether it’s meditating, reading or watching Netflix, giving yourself some me-time is scientifically proven to improve your psychological wellbeing.