How often do you sit at your computer with all intentions of being creatively productive but find that all you can do is stare at the screen? Your hands are placed on the keys ready for your next command, but….nothing. What would you say if I told you that productivity is just a well nurtured habit?
You see, we humans love routines. They calm us and bring order and predictability to an otherwise uncertain and chaotic world. From brushing your teeth, to daily writing practice, to your daily run, all of our routines start as new behaviors and slowly, with practice, become habits and then routines. What I have learned is that you can encourage those habits by creating the right environment – create a ritual.
behaviors on demand
When I was having trouble getting a good night sleep, I did some research and discovered that daily routines enhance sleep. As it turns out, our love of routines is physical as well as mental. It gets us into a rhythm so that our bodies know what to expect when these conditions are true. For example if you have a a warm cup of tea, read for 15 minutes, brush your teeth and then go to bed every night at the same time, you will naturally begin to get tired at the same time – your body craves and expects that experience.
experiment in rituals
So I thought – if this works for sleep, why not for other activities? What if you could create a ritual that encourages your muse to arrive just when you needed to write? Well, I did my own experiment (highly unscientific) and discovered that the rituals we create for ourselves can influence our productivity. It’s almost like having creative productivity on demand!
I chose two areas where I wanted to develop creative productivity on demand. For each one I established a ritual and then executed that ritual on a daily basis for several weeks. What I experienced is exactly what the sleep article described: my body and mind got into a rhythm and began to expect the behavior. I can now be creatively productive on demand. Here are the two rituals:
the morning ritual
I realized early in my virtual worklife that how I start my day influences the remainder of the day. So I make it a habit of starting my day in a calm and centered way. Time alloted: 45 – 60 minutes
- coffee: hot, aromatic, and fresh
- candle: lit or not the aroma is evident
- music: from pandora’s spa radio channel
- calm: take 5 deep breaths and check my posture
- action: launch gmail / calendar and begin!
I do this almost every day, no matter where I am, to help set the tone for the rest of the day. On the off days, I truly feel off . I guess that’s why we call them off days! (see more of my inbox zero activities here.)
the writing ritual
Guess what? All of those recommendations to create a daily writing practice are true! The more I write, the easier it becomes. But like most writers, I struggle with staying creative and productive. Time alloted: 2 hours
- white noise: quiet is too distracting, the white noise of a coffee shop (if mobile) or music enhances the habit
- physical comfort: temperature, chair / table, lighting – if not comfortable can be distracting
- eliminate distractions: close all other applications, better yet disconnect from the internet; turn off phone.
- be inspired: I read a few pages of an encouraging work before starting (currently using If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland)
- prime the pump: five minutes of free writing – both a physical and mental activity
- start with notes: nothing blocks me more than a blank page. I always have several articles started and am continuously capturing ideas. Start with existing notes and go from there.
The idea behind any routine that we establish is to get both the mind and body accustomed to the activity we are trying to engage. I have found that engaging as many of my senses as possible increases the likelihood of productivity on demand.
This builds on the last article: from clutter to zen office. Not only is your environment important, but so are your habits within that environment. The habits / rituals are also valuable on their own for the virtual or mobile worker as you don’t always have the luxury of being in your base office. So even if you have created the perfect zen home office, you can not always count on being able to use that to be creatively productive. Establishing routines that are mobile can add to your creativity and productivity.
It’s your turn. What behavior or activity do you want to make a habit in your life? Where do you want to be able to engage on demand; be creatively productive on demand? Select one daily habit and begin to develop a ritual to support your behavior. Make it uniquely yours and it will be uniquely powerful. Establish creative productivity on demand!