I, for most of my life, have had a love-love relationship with routine. It keeps me focused, tracking progress toward goals, and able to feel pride and accomplishment at the end of each week.
I love a good to-do list and a calendared week, with time planned to maximize ALL I need to get done. This approach is productive, yes, but not always in flow. I can power through simple tasks, but when it comes to the truly deep work of creating, writing, and strategizing, I find I often get stuck or run out of steam just when I need to be at my best.
Leaning more into the making of art and design in my days, as I work to launch a wallpaper line this fall, I needed a fresh approach to routine. Craving a bit more freedom and play to keep connected to my creative energy while developing patterns and redesigning my website, while also still continuing the strategy and business development side of my work, means that I need to wear many hats during the week.
Using a bit of design thinking, I revamped my routine to blend the productivity and comfort of a schedule with the play and intuition of an art practice. This new routine allows each week to look a bit different, with an intentional mix of creative time, work time, and even some rest time to recharge.
This new routine allows each week to look a bit different, with an intentional mix of creative time, work time, and even some rest time to recharge.
Always a reading and research nerd at heart, I borrowed some tips I’d learned from a few of my favorite reads on productivity, art, and life.
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron helped me find time, daily, to be creative.
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown helped me to get more intentional with where my time goes and what goes on my to-do list.
- This article on task batching reminded me of the power of arranging my day into focused blocks by activity type.
Here’s a peek at what my new routine looks like:
At the start of the week, I list out all the things I want to explore and accomplish in the days ahead. Everything from work, to art, to writing, to family tasks, to personal projects all work their way onto my list. From there, I take this list, super edit it, and then block my calendar in two-hour “bursts”—bursts for painting, for writing, and for phone calls, and on and on.
In each burst, I make note of what I want to accomplish as I start my work, whether it’s working on one large painting or roughing out a few small ideas; writing two articles or pitching three new publications. Having the time blocked allows me to mono-task, yet the freedom to choose my focus in each burst gives me the variety I need to stay engaged.
The beauty in this routine is that it’s a bit more free-form than following the same schedule each week and can work around my energy, allowing me to put most of my creative bursts earlier in the day, and returning phone calls or emails later in the day, when I’m more primed for lower energy work.
If you’re also in need of a routine revamp—and honestly, who isn’t these days?—I’d encourage you to get curious. Ask yourself:
- What’s currently working well in my schedule?
- What could use some improvement?
- Am I feeling inspired and focused when I need to be?
- How is my energy throughout the day?
Once you know where to focus your efforts, I’d invite you to start with a few small tweaks that you are drawn to, whether it’s incorporating bursts, creating a smaller to-do list, or aligning your schedule to your energy. Start small, keep what works, and keep tweaking until you find your optimal routine.
For me, this approach to routine is keeping my work fresh, my energy light, and my days filled with a varied mix of design, thinking, building, and planning. By blending my love of routine with the approach of learning to intuitively follow my energy, I’m tweaking my days and weeks to match my mindset and focus on the right type of work, at the right time. And, likely, it will continue to be a work in progress as my days and work evolve in the coming years.
Jill Elliott is a creative consultant, strategist, and thinker constantly seeking inspiration and balance. As a writer, artist, and founder of The Color Kind she seeks to inspire others to live creatively every day. She can often be found making art and messes alongside her 8-year-old daughter and Goldendoodle puppy.