This article originally appeared in my column at Inc.
It’s not the big things that take out most leaders and creative pros, it’s the little ones. Over time, they forget to do the small things that position them to bring their best effort to the table every day. Everything might look fine to those around them, but the decay has already begun and they are on a path of slow decline.
As author Gretchen Rubin wrote, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” Without a set of daily practices to keep you aligned and energized, your talents will eventually fail you.
While there are many practices that you can implement to help you stay at the top of your game, there are a few “keystone practices” that seem to pull your creative world together and set you up to be prolific, brilliant, and healthy.
You can’t draw water from an empty well. Do you take time each day to fill yours? The quality of input that you curate often determines the quality of your creative output. As Steve Jobs once quipped, “creativity is just connecting things”, but to do so you obviously need things to connect.
I encourage you to set aside time each morning or evening to fill your well, to read inspiring or challenging books, to watch videos or listen to talks, or to otherwise fill your well so that you have something to draw from when engaging in your work.
Reflection and Journaling
It’s not enough to simply absorb a lot of stimuli. If you’re not taking the time to make connections and consider how those stimuli might apply to your life and work, they will be quickly forgotten. Take fifteen minutes at some point during your day – preferably right after your study time – to reflect on how what you’re learning and seeing might apply to the projects you’re working on. Reflect on any patterns that you’re noticing. Consider how different things you’re reading – even across disciplines – might apply to each other. Often the best ideas result from “crossing the streams.”
One exercise that has been tremendously helpful in my life (and the lives of many creative people I’ve interviewed) is known as Morning Pages, which is a practice prescribed by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. Essentially, it consists of free-writing three pages of stream of consciousness thought as your very first act of the day. It’s not journaling, it’s just free-writing. The objective is to get all of the chatter out of your brain before you begin the day so that it isn’t clogging the works and preventing you from thinking clearly.
A Daily Walk
Finally, consider getting out of your office once a day for a short walk. It’s not only good for your health to move around a bit, but it’s also good for your creative productivity. The variety of stimuli that you’ll encounter will often jog new insights, and the break from “the grind” will allow your mind to form patterns out of loose connections that are often overlooked in the hustle of your workspace.
Whatever you do, make sure that you have a set of practices to ground you and help you maintain stability in the midst of uncertainty. The infrastructure you build is what will sustain you when life and work are stretching you beyond your limits.
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