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 Steven Johnson 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.