Creativity Through Routine: The Science of Momentum

While planning for a recent working vacation (all vacations are working vacations, right?), I had to make a decision between taking my laptop, or my iPad plus a wireless keyboard.

Knowing my weakness for cutting-edge technology…

You’ll probably be surprised to discover that I opted for the laptop.

I made the decision, not because I couldn’t get work done on an iPad, but because I simply wouldn’t be as efficient. I’d be messing around trying to figure out how to do stuff that I take for granted on my laptop.

While poolside in Bali, I‘d be limiting myself to two hours work per day, so I didn’t want to be spending two-thirds of my time trying to work out how the heck I copy and paste something.

But this is more than just a technical issue.

When I’m writing, or engaged in any kind of creative process, it’s really important that I maintain a certain pattern of work. To produce my best stuff I have, what almost amounts to, a ritual; anything that interrupts that routine, kills my momentum.

When I’m into a good flow of work, I don’t want anything to slow me down, and having to learn new tech will definitely be a hindrance.

That’s why I’m taking the laptop. It will allow me to be effective and efficient, and will help me to maximize what I can accomplish in that two-hour window I permit myself.

Why am I telling you this? Because there’s a significant truth hidden in there; if you can figure it out, then your productivity will go through the roof!

I can’t remember who originated this quote, but it goes something like this:

“I always just wait for inspiration to strike before I write. Luckily, it strikes at 9:01 AM every morning.”

The thinking behind this is that if you get into a routine of working on something creative, at the same time, every day, then you brain will become accustomed to the pattern and will be “switched on” when you need it (and the same goes for the tools you use too).

It’s not going to happen overnight.

You need to sit down at the same time, every day, and force yourself to write, or draw, or shoot video, or work on pulling one of the 7 Levers or whatever your creative activity is, until it becomes a habit. Eventually, your brain will get used to the routine, and the quality of your work, and the speed at which you produce it, will increase.

If you cheat and miss some days out, it’s not going to work.

By repeating your activity every day, you’re building up momentum. And once things are rolling, you won’t want it to stop.

This principle of routine as a technique for generating momentum works in other areas of business and life. Marketer, Joe Polish, offers a great example of this when he was working with Bill Phillips on the “Body for Life” phenomenon. Joe asked Bill, out of everything he knows on the subject of controlling your body and unlocking your potential, what is the one trick or secret to success.

Bill’s reply…

“Start off with the perfect breakfast.”

A substantial and nutritious breakfast will not, on its own, improve your diet. But if you start the day off right, you’re more likely to eat sensibly throughout the day.

The flipside is that if you skip breakfast, or fill up on pop-tarts, you’re more likely to think, “I’ve already messed up, I might as well write this day off and start again tomorrow”.

Start the day well and you’re more likely to keep up that discipline throughout the rest of the day.

And if you eat a good breakfast, at the same time, every day, eventually…

It becomes a habit and you start to generate momentum.

Unlike a lot of marketers, I’ve always preferred going to bed early and starting my day early. I’m not saying that’s crucial to having a productive day, but whatever time you get up, you’re setting yourself up for success if you start the day with a good routine and stick to it until it’s a habit.

This might sound like it takes a lot of discipline, but you really only need to focus on driving yourself for that first hour or so, because once you’re got yourself going, the rest of the day is that much easier.

Let me share with you my daily routine. I’m not suggesting it’s perfect; in fact, although it works for me, it’s always evolving, and it probably won’t work for you. You have to put together a routine that fits in with your priorities.

But this should at least give you some ideas to get you started.

1)     Emails  – I start by checking my emails and within about ten or so minutes I’ve achieved “Inbox Zero”. I haven’t actioned all my emails, but every message is out of my inbox and into my GTD process.

2)     Daily Plan – I boot up Omnifocus, review what my main jobs are for the day and figure out the order in which I’m going to tackle them.

3)     Breakfast – If I’m in training, I have to make sure I consume more calories than normal, but I make sure I’m also getting the right levels of nutrition along with plenty of water.

4)     Lumosity – This great little tool delivers a daily dose of cognitive mind games to improve things such as spatial awareness, memory and attention spans. In addition to the long-term benefits, It really helps  to wake my brain up in the morning.

5)     SendOutCards – If you’re not already familiar with SOC, it’s an online system for sending postcards and greetings cards, but using a font that matches my actual handwriting. Every day I (try to) send out at least one card to someone in my social or business network.

6)     Facebook – I don’t spend hours a day here, but a few minutes in the morning to message a friend or two allows me to keep in contact with the important people in my life.

7)     Forum Posts – I have a system (which you can learn more about  at that lets me keep up with my favourite forums in about ten minutes a day. (For transparency – this is the step I often let slip.)

8)     Swipe File Copy – I spend about 10 minutes thinking up and practicing new ways to communicate, sell and write – this is often done, by simply re-writing sales letters and marketing material that has been tested and proven effective. (There is a pattern to selling and pitching that can be learnt through repetition.)

9)     Change Passwords – We all know it’s crucial to our online security that we regularly change our passwords, but it’s so easy to neglect. I aim to change just two a day and that ensures a decent level of rotation. (Tool of choice here is 1Password.)

These nine items may sound a lot, but the time I spend on each one ranges from 1-2 minutes for the shortest, to just ten minutes for the longest.

Altogether this morning routine takes me less than one hour.

But it’s one hour very well spent.

It wakes me up physically and mentally, it has time spent on business, family and friends, and it gets me in a great frame of mind.

And because I do this every day, it’s become a cast-iron habit that maximises my chances of putting in a productive day’s work.

So you have any weird and wonderful daily habits? Please share them with everyone below!

Pete Williams is an entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia.

Before being honored “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent, Pete was just 21 years old when he sold Australia’s version of Yankee Stadium, The Melbourne Cricket Ground For Under $500! Don’t believe it? You will! Check out the story in the FAQ section (it really is our most asked question).

Since then, he’s done some cool stuff like write the international smash hit ‘How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality’ (+ the upcoming ‘It’s Not About the Product‘) and he’s created a bunch of companies including Infiniti Telecommunications, On Hold Advertising, Simply Headsets and Preneur Group.

Lots of other people think he’s pretty good too! He’s been announced as the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, the Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of SmartCompany’s Top 30 Under 30.

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