Whether you’re a graphic designer, organizer, photographer, writer, or are just getting started in a creative field, you’re going to experience a lull. Everyone does. But the most successful creatives have a reliable formula which allows them to tap into their flow state at will.
It’s not a ritualistic chant, though. And you don’t have to curl your toes a hundred times per foot, as crazy-ass Tesla did…
Here are three lifestyle changes you can make to succeed as a creative professional
People imagine the creative life as leaning back in a chair with your heels crossed and arms folded behind your head, ala the series ‘Madmen’. While many ideas do crop up in the recumbent daydream position (that’s a creative technical term), the majority are born through movement.
Famous naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau collected almost all of his ideas while sauntering, his preferred term for walking; and he had this to say about sedentary lifestyles:
“When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”
For idea men and women, sitting too long is creative suicide.
When your body stagnates, your mind stagnates with it—which is why sedentaryism is a predictor of Alzheimer’s and dementia. So get your body moving. Your mind will follow suit and reward you with the creative insights you need to thrive in your profession.
For best results, schedule frequent movement alerts in your smartphone and computer—once per hour is enough; and every thirty minutes is better. These can be as quick as fifty jumping jacks and squats, or a dash up the stairs. But ideally you’ll want to include some Thoreau-ian “saunters”, too: before work, after lunch, and in the evening. These longer stretches of contemplative movement are regular haunts for inspiration.
2-Work early and routinely
Many depictions of creative genius would have a person shuffling around in her pajamas while sitting down to work no sooner than 1:00pm, still donning a milk mustache from the cereal she just gobbled. But the more accurate portrayal is of Julie Mehretu—this world-renowned painter and mother of two is in her studio at 8:30 every morning. Because creativity is a habit.
When you’re disciplined about getting your mental juice flowing first thing in the morning, nothing will prevent it from flowing into your afternoon and evening work, too.
So figure out what time you’ll hit your desk or studio each morning. (If you’re a night owl and actually wake up at 12:00, that’s okay too.) Then hold yourself accountable to filling that time with focused work towards a single objective. Block out as many undistracted work periods as possible. The longer, the better.
Facebook, text, and email notifications are creativity enemies and should be prohibited during work hours—though some would argue all hours. Also, stay committed to regular eating and exercise times so you aren’t working on fumes. Creativity is an energy hog.
3-Feed your curiosity with a note-taking habit
Creativity is an exploration of the unknown; it is the satisfaction of curiosity. But curiosity isn’t just a passive feeling that comes and goes on its own accord. It’s a habit you cultivate through note taking.
Blogger Maria Popova developed her curiosity by filling books and journals with note after note after note of inspired thoughts—up to a thousand per book—which ended up being the foundation for BrainPickings.org, her hugely popular website.
“I started BrainPickings,” Maria said in a recent interview, “when I was still in college because I felt unstimulated by the experience of higher education. The enormous lecture classes of 400 people, professors who didn’t know students’ names, reading off of PowerPoint presentations, and assigning reading to be done at home—none of that was my idea of personal growth and enrichment. I started learning and reading about things on my own and BrainPickings was a record of that.”
You’re not guaranteed a critically acclaimed blog through your note taking. But at the very least, you’ll have recorded thousands of rabbit holes that inspire you to think and work differently.
You can start by creating several note folders in your phone and computer. Have one for “interesting things”, one for whichever books you’re reading, and one each for every area of life that you could possibly take notes on—health, work, projects, happiness, etc. Then cement the habit by setting note-taking goals every day for a month. Could be five notes; could be ten—whatever is realistic for you. Finally, establish an hour each week* for following up on the notes you’ve taken, and for generating action steps. Set a weekly recurring reminder.
*This step came from David Allen’s famous planning book, “Getting Stuff Done.”
If you’re currently working as a creative professional or trying to get into your favorite creative field, you’ll be needing a disciplined, creativity-boosting routine that you can rely on. Because when you’re doing this stuff for a living…you can’t afford to leave inspiration to fate. So move frequently and keep you blood pumping throughout the day. Start your work and research early in the day, like the pros. And take always take notes.
These were the techniques that helped me build a several-thousand-dollars-per-article writing career, and then a full-time coaching career too. They will work for you–if you use them. Get a friend or mentor to keep you accountable. And if you need a coach to jumpstart your career, check out my services here.