Charisse Bennett

How Routines Influence Our Work Habits

I just finished reading Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, the first book in a series created by 99U. This book is a quick read, compiling insights in four major chapters with each sub-section written by a different leading creative mind. (Hint: Key takeaways are summarized at the end of each chapter, so if you’re lazy and just want a snapshot view or a refresher you can just read those.)

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“It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen ”

- Scott Belsky

Our own bad habits consume our energy every day and affect our ability to be productive and creative. We allow our day-to-day demands to actually interrupt our goals and preferences. This book helps provide some guidance on taking a time-out and evaluating what you’re doing, what’s actually important, and how to get back on track.

“It’s time to stop blaming our surroundings and start taking responsibility. … Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than reactively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.”

- Scott Belsky

The four main chapters are:

  • Building a Rock Solid Routine
  • Finding Focus in a Distracted World
  • Taming Your Tools
  • Sharpening Your Creative Mind

Building a Rock Solid Routine focuses on the importance of having an effective routine in place with built-in frequency and renewal time, as well as making room for solitude or quiet time in order to really focus. It’s also important to understand the spectrum between the tasks we have to do and the tasks we want to do, and then making sure the space between doesn’t just get filled up with meaningless meetings, emails, and other people’s requests. It’s easy to let all those quick little tasks fill up our day when we should be focusing on making progress on the bigger picture. That goal that seems so far away gets closer and closer when you actually set aside the time to work on it every day (even just an hour every day adds up). I fall victim to this myself. I have some huge goals in my personal life that just keep getting pushed to the side, while, if I just set aside a little time every week, I could actually be so much closer to learning Spanish, or creating personal artwork again, or actually cleaning out the office/garage/closet, or… (the list is endless which is another area that needs some serious attention).

“At the end of the day—or, really, from the beginning—building a routine is all about persistence and consistency. Don’t wait for inspiration; create a framework for it.”

- Scott Belsky

It’s also important to understand your energy levels and most productive times. For most people this is in the morning, with a dip in energy as the afternoon and evening approaches. I’m a big morning person and definitely get way more done the earlier it is in the day, but when I was in architecture (school and work), I would sometimes get a new surge of energy late in the evening (which obviously had to do with deadlines and adrenaline, but it can happen). Several of my colleagues were not productive until way late in the day and would have benefitted from a more flexible work schedule.

Additional gems from this chapter are: using creative triggers, managing to-do list creep, capturing every commitment, establishing hard edges to your day. It also discusses how frequency keeps ideas fresh, keeps the pressure off, sparks creativity, nurtures frequency, fosters productivity, and is a realistic approach. Plus several other suggestions.

“The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and email off.”

- Mark McGuinness

Finding Focus in a Distracted World identifies the importance of scheduling creative thinking time, removing multitasking, identifying and understanding our compulsions, working within chaos, and tuning into you. Building off of the previous chapter, it identifies how important it is to understand and establish a routine that includes focusing on your creative work before everything else when your energy levels are highest, and holding this dedicated time as sacred. Multitasking is a myth and should be avoided. I struggle with this everyday, all day. It’s hard to tune out all the other distractions and constant demands for our attention. Don’t be afraid to turn everything off for a period of time to get true focus.

Additional gems: make progress visible to keep motivated, give your brain a break to rest and refuel, make room for transitional moments.

“A healthy relationship with your devices is all about taking ownership of your time and making an investment in your life.”

- James Victore

Taming Your Tools is all about not letting our “tools” control us and control how our time is spent. “Tools” includes email, social media, cell phones, computers, and everything else that keeps us continually connected. Technology is powerful. It has the power to make our jobs easier, faster, and better, but it also has the power to suck away all of our time and energy. The difference between these two extremes is completely dependent on how we manage our use of technology and knowing when to just disconnect for awhile.

Additional gems: know your complex goals and clearly identify them, connect the dots, let things go, look for meaningful connections, and learn to say no.

“Conditions to produce one’s craft are rarely ideal, and waiting for everything to be perfect is almost always an exercise in procrastination.”

- Erin Rooney Doland

Sharpening Your Creative Mind was the strongest chapter for me. It’s important to learn how to create for yourself and only yourself while always being ready for insight to hit. Elizabeth Grace Saunders discusses the importance of letting go of perfectionism and just doing something, because the more you wait for everything to be right (the right time, the right place, all the information available, etc.) the less likely you are to create anything. It’s better to just try more often than to wait for perfect to happen.

Additional gems: practice unnecessary creation, make time for your mind and body to wander to get unstuck, define “finished,” avoid autopilot, and embrace your limitations and learn from them.

“My guess is that you’ll find you produce far more and far better work with much less stress by aiming for less-than-perfect. This approach allows you to recapture the energy that you typically waste on emotional angst so that you can focus it on the elements of the creative process that matter most.”

- Elizabeth Grace Saunders

This book is simply a guide… it’s still entirely up to you to implement the suggestions, but I think there are some great suggestions. (I have some hard work to do myself before I can say whether they work.) Good luck!

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