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The Value Of a Regimen To Creativity

by | Process

We are creatures of habit. As anyone who has tried to change a seemingly “automatic” behavior knows, it can be far more difficult to stop doing something than it is to start doing it.

In a previous AC podcast I discussed the importance of hunting trails to our creative process. This means establishing defined, timely practices that put us in a favorable position for experiencing serendipity, or “creative accidents”. While these hunting trails may not always feel efficient, they can be remarkably effective in carving out space for your mind to do its magic.

I discovered this principle in full while I was writing The Accidental Creative. I carved out specific times and places throughout the week for writing – 5:30a-7:00a weekdays, and 6a-noon on Sundays at the local Starbucks – and I discovered that, over time, my mind seemed to learn that it needed to be in writing mode during these times. It was as if I’d trained my mind to kick into gear, do what was needed, and get out when finished. I became a much more effective writer. I – as Steven Pressfield says – went pro.

I’m getting back into this regimen now that I’m working on book number two, which means making choices about when I go to bed, evening entertainment, and the kinds of things I put into my head. (When I’m writing a lot I’m also reading a lot. I’ve found that it’s difficult to separate the two.)

Here are a few other kinds of regimen that have been helpful to me and to teams I’ve worked with:

Study. Do you have prescribed, defined times for absorbing new, inspiring stimuli, or do you simply wait for interesting things to cross your path? By carving out time to purposefully absorb stimuli you are creating a mindset of intentional growth. As my friend Lisa says, you’re always reaping the crop you planted a few seasons ago. What seeds are you planting now?

Relationships. Innovation is the collective grasp for the next. As [amazon_link id=”1594485380″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Steven Johnson[/amazon_link] says, great ideas most frequently come from people pursuing similar problems in community, pursuing the adjacent possible. Do you have a relational regimen you follow? Are you regularly getting together with people who inspire, challenge, and provoke you?

Difficult conversations. This is a challenging one, but is also critical for leaders. Establish a regimen of routinely scanning the horizon for any difficult conversations you need to have with team members. It’s much easier (and more effective) to have these conversations early and often rather than waiting for a situation to fester. Identify, then have these conversations routinely rather than conveniently.

Exercise. We all know it can significantly improve brain function, mood, and energy level. I’ve found, however, that I need to make it as drop-dead-simple as possible to exercise or I will avoid it everytime. I’ve discovered a routine I can do anywhere, even when I’m on the road, and try to do it whenever and wherever I am. (I’ve discovered that even having to look for the hotel gym will give me sufficient reason to abandon ship. Thus, I have a regimen I can do to great effect in the hotel room.)

Grunt work. This means returning e-mails, invoicing, filling out time sheets, and doing all of the “unsexy” stuff that’s part of business, but not part of the real value you bring to the organization. Rather than squeezing this into the cracks of your productive life, set time aside for these activities and do them all at once (as much as possible.) This might, for some, mean returning e-mails in the last 10 mintues of every hour, or something similar. But have a regimen for grunt work prevents you from perpetually scanning the horizon and alleviates the weight of what’s undone.

Regimen clears the path for your best creating. Determine the activites you need to perform flawlessly every time, then build a set of practices – time, place, duration – that will help you make excellence a habit.

What types of regimen have you found effective in your life and work?

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Beth Cregan

    Great post! I can especially relate to carving out a time and place and using this routine to kick start your creativity. Breaking the routine sometimes can be valuable too – it creates a little space somewhere in your head. I had to work in the country for a couple of days and missed my routine but came back full of fresh ideas.

    • Todd Henry

      I agree that a break from a regimen can be helpful too. This often happens when I travel. I find that the time alone on the plane provides a ton of thought/writing/strategy time that is often hard to find when I’m “in the pocket.” Rhythm is the key.

  2. Elias

    Would you mind telling us about your exercise routine? It’s my biggest struggle!

  3. fjr

    Some aspects of routine are in place by necessity rather than design, like getting my child to and from the school bus or feeding and getting out the dog. One intentional practice that has worked well for me over these long years is to do my most important work, what requires the most on-the-spot ingenuity and expansive thinking, when I am at my highest mental energy and the decks are clear of knick-knack tasks. To this end I check email when I have that first spell in the morning before the first needs of child or dog and also while I am eating. By 9AM I can engage fully, probably take a break for a walk a few hours later, and then get back to it. By the time I catch my son’s bus home at around four, I have gotten in about five or six hours of my highest quality work. In what I do, this may have included study. I am at low energy in the last couple of hours of my day and do not work then unless there is a specific event at which I need to engage which is in the evening.I don’t need to build myself any sort of long pathways to get into the mood to work, but I do work at one of two places (not counting composing writing while I walk).

  4. Ralph Dopping

    Again, great tips!

    I especially relate to the difficult conversations. I have a large team of more technical staff (architecture/design) and a very, very tough national client that we serve. There are tons of challenges with this team to keep the positive vibes and service the client well. There are some legacy issues that i have worked hard over the past 18 months to resolve and having straigh up conversations and creating actionable solutions with the team has helped immensely. What i find works the best is having the team members come up with the solutions and directing them in the best way I can.

    Grunt work is huge too! It is the most difficut thing to do when you can be doing the fun stuff instead. My friend Kaarina Dillabough wrote a post recently about the “must do list”. I thought that was brilliant. 

    Thanks again for the insights. You book is on my hit list!

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