Creativity, Motivation, Routine—Can They Co-Exist?
Creativity calls to mind chaos, not routine. Splashing paint on walls, chain-smoking, you know the typical imagery. On the flip side, routine tends to sound… well, boring. It doesn’t sound overly motivating, while walking on the beach in another country has a much more flavorful ring to it. On the surface, it seems like the best time to be creative is on the road. And of course, this comes back to a long series in this same line of topics: wanderlust versus homesteading, or if a daily training environment outweighs and optimal training environment. Should I stay or should I go now? Because to a great extent, Peter and I have a choice in where we work from, it can feel paralyzing at times, trying to figure out what will make us the best, most productive, creative, healthiest versions of ourselves. There isn’t a wrong answer, and we’re so lucky to have the choice—but it brings up an interesting question. When are you at your most creative, and can that creativity exist in a comfortable, routine setting?
This is another one of these posts that I started as a note to myself ages ago and constantly see sitting in drafts, just waiting for me to have an actual answer. Shocker, I don’t. But it’s something I’m thinking about A LOT as my routine is getting put into a tumble and shaken AND stirred. It’s all in positive ways, just hectic. Which, I suppose, is how most of us live our lives.
For me, creativity comes in weird waves. Travel and being in different places prompts the majority of my ideas for articles for this site and the other places I write for, partially because it exposes me to new ideas and experiences, partially because it makes me look at my own routines and rethink them, and partially because frankly, it gives me content. It’s pretty hard to write about fastpacking a hiking trail or even how to pack a good carry-on bag if you’re spending the weekend at home!
But on the flip side, most of my long-term projects, like books, happen at home. The idea for Shred Girls happened when I was actually working temporarily in a 9 to 5 office job, and The Athlete’s Guide to Sponsorship finally got finished when we were home for a full month… Though I admit, that idea was conceived entirely due to being on the road racing, managing and coaching!
It boils down to the fact that a lot of my best ideas do come from being on the road and away from the comfort and routine of home. But the best execution comes when there’s some element of routine in my life. I used to have the stat that for 10 years, I was never in the same town for more than 10 days at a time without at least leaving for a day or two, and that’s still 95% true, so even when we are home, routine is still mildly elusive.
I guess ultimately, you need routine to produce creative content—but routine doesn’t have to look like living in the same place all the time. Even when we’re on the road, most days do look similar for us. I get up, do morning core/yoga, check email, eat breakfast, dive into work for a couple hours, do my training and eat lunch, then dive back into work again, maybe run errands and go for a walk after a few more hours on the computer. Shut down for the day when it’s time to make dinner. But it’s pretty routinized no matter where we are in the world, regardless of the day. It changes for things like talks that I’m doing or when there’s a huge deadline looming or when a podcast interviewee can only talk at night, but for the most part, I prefer to default to those two big work chunks every day.
So yes—to me, routine helps give creativity a launchpad. Without a routine, I’d have a giant list of ideas and zero execution. I’d train less, eat more crappy food (I know myself), and get much less writing done. It’s not rigid by a time standard, but my routine is rigid by my to-do list standard. There’s no clocking out just because it’s 5!
If you’re struggling to find the balance between adding more creativity or motivation into your routine, if you’re set into one and don’t have a lot of wiggle room, I think there is still space to do it. Creativity doesn’t require a retreat (real talk: Shred Girls book 1 was written 100 words a day over the course of a year and a half!). Motivation doesn’t require a plane ticket. It requires some breathing room, but a lot of my better pitch and article ideas have come on hikes in nearby parks, or during rambling conversations with Peter (that sound a lot like what I’m writing here!).
Embrace that you’re in a routine—it means you’re already set up to actually produce creative things, not just dream about them.