Routinize Yourself: Maybe Monday Is Mend Day?

In my last post, I wrote about routine, but a big part of the question is actually about commitment: What to commit to in my creative life, and what to let go.

In Wild Mind Natalie Goldberg says “It is good to try different things, but eventually we must settle on one thing and commit ourselves. Otherwise we are always drifting and there is no peace.”

That’s what attracts me to routine: peace. It’s decided–I do XYZ on these days and times, life’s purpose decided, done, check mark. But what also makes me hesitate is what if I want to do B instead of X? What if I don’t feel like Y?

My friend who loathes routine (see last post) said “it’s too close to knowing what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. That’s a horrifying thought to me.”

I’ve always wanted to know what I’ll be doing the rest of my life. It feels like a relief knowing I am THIS PERSON who does THESE THINGS and that’s that. No more wondering, or wandering for that matter.

And yet, I hesitate to claim any title (artist, writer, homemaker), and daydream of twelve projects while slogging to get one completed.

“Basically, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything,” says James Clear the author of 100-Year-Old To-Do List at Fast Company about the deceptively simple Ivy Lee Method for getting things done. (The five steps are listed at the end of this post.)

While the Ivy Lee Method requires you to list six tasks, Clear suggests it could be fewer. What matters is imposing limits and creating constraint to get ourselves focused when we get overwhelmed by too many ideas.

The task list also gets us over the dread of starting each day because we know where to begin–with task #1 that we decided yesterday was a priority. Clear says: “As a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately.”

I don’t know. What do you think? Is this a good method for creative work?

In a Vanity Fair article, President Obama said The First Lady makes fun of “how routinized I’ve become.” He says, “You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” However, he also says this self-discipline makes it “much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. … the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

Serendipity and surprise seem important to creative work, but when just about any other task has more immediate and obvious value: meals made, dishes washed, clothes cleaned…something must make room for creative work.

Well, speaking of routine–my friend Amy of Vivid Element has stuck with my #365daysofpractice challenge. She’s creating one new dress design every month for a year. Look at the most recent:


Here’s how the Ivy Lee Method works:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.  (From James Clear 100-Year-Old To-Do List at Fast Company.)

This fits the bullet journal fad right now, and I like that I don’t have to commit in Big Ways but in small specific tasks determined one day at a time.

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7 Responses to Routinize Yourself: Maybe Monday Is Mend Day?

  1. Amy Daileda says:

    Thanks for sharing my work, Trista! I try to have a list of a few specific tasks to accomplish every work day. I can return to the list when I find myself distracted. It helps me to stay focused. It will be good to hear how your new method works for you!

    • TRISTA says:

      I think I’m starting to use my planner this way, too. I just can’t plan more than a week at a time, and I can’t let myself spend too much time planning! I find myself re-writing things to make it neater. Duh.

  2. rose l. says:

    I agree with your friend. I cannot live on a routine, especially one so structured. I can wake up, look out the window, and say, “I wonder what is happening today?” I will look up activities, events, etc. and sometimes take off to one or just drive for an adventure. Day to day…

    • TRISTA says:

      My problem is I might spend the whole day looking out the window and online thinking, “Hmmmm, what if …” and never leave the couch!! Okay, that’s not quite true. There are many things requiring me to leave the couch, but if I don’t have some sort of task list like Amy described, I spin out into orbit.

  3. I love that red dress!! You really put a fire in her hands with that challenge! And yeah, I agree with all your points. I actually went to a panel last night about graphic storytelling. It was interesting to see the three artists describe each of their different methods for getting stuff done. One artist made every artist sob a little (good-naturedly) when he was like “I get up in the morning and the starting is easy~ and I just do it all day, happy as a clam.” His co-panelist was like “It’s a hard slog for me…” and then he was like “Well, you’re doing it wrong!” … obviously most didn’t agree with him, but it really is different for every person.

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