Illustration by Fanny Luor

Work Culture

Your daily routine is making you less creative—here’s how to fix it


Published on February 22, 2018

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Some routines are good. Doctors say going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps you stay healthy. Familiar patterns—like regular exercise and brushing your teeth before bed—can help reduce stress and keep you grounded. But taken too far, routines can also become a problem. Doing the same thing all day, over and over, can decrease your creative thinking and blunt your competitive edge.

So what’s the right way to fix it? Where can you experiment without completely changing what’s familiar? Try these tips.

1. Change your morning routine in some small way

Your morning probably involves more routines than any other time of day. Maybe you always take a shower, or eat the same thing for breakfast, or leave the house at exactly the same time. Critically, however, mornings set the tone for the entire day. If you always start your day on “auto-pilot,” it’ll be that much harder to break the cycle once you get to school or work. So tomorrow morning, try making some small change to your break-of-day routine.

You might try doing something creative, like journaling. Or you could shake things up with something social, like calling a friend on your commute. If nothing else, simply taking a new route to work can unlock your creativity. You might be surprised how quickly your brain shifts from “business as usual,” to “creatively engaged.”

2. Do your most creative or challenging work right away

It’s tempting to focus on email, small to-dos, and chat messages for the first hour of your day. Tasks like these are easy to check off, and they give your brain an excuse to procrastinate before really needing to focus. Unfortunately, common behavior like this can waste your brain’s best hours, when your creativity tends to be at its peak.

Next time, try turning your day on its head. Jump on your biggest projects the second you sit down—whether it’s a big presentation, software design challenge, or sales plan—then save the checkboxes and emails for the afternoon. Read more: How to increase focus at work

3. Change where you do your work

Maybe your emails can’t wait, or your route to work isn’t very flexible. Try relocating before you start working. This might mean simply working in a conference room instead of at your desk. It could involve going to a coffee shop a block from your office. You might even recruit a colleague to join you in your change-of-scenery expedition.

Even if the work itself doesn’t change, you’ll be surprised how much the new location—or the presence of a different co-worker—helps shake up your old routines. Your fresh surroundings will often help you rethink tough problems or discover things you might have overlooked.

4. Change the way you do meetings

Perhaps nothing encourages old routines more than meetings. Meetings have a habit of being repetitive and reoccurring—just the sort of time sinks that train your brain to disengage. While the best solution is probably to eliminate bad meetings altogether, that’s not always something you alone can change.

Instead, try proposing a few small tweaks to shake up your next team sync. You might suggest cutting the guest list in half, then emailing the team later with summary notes. You could propose starting the meeting at an odd time, like 10:10. It’s the sort of change that makes people less likely to be late, encourages everyone to be more efficient, and ultimately shifts the mindset in the room. The key, as usual, is simply to knock people off of their established patterns, then see how the room reacts. Read more: Meetings are a waste of time. Here’s how to fix them.

5. Work at a different time of day

Suppose you’ve changed your morning commute, moved emails to the afternoon, tried working from a coffee shop, and removed yourself from some problematic meetings. But you’re still looking for one more creative burst. How can you really shake things up?

Your best bet is likely changing your work hours altogether.Can’t stand the 9-5 workday? Try coming in at 7. Or even at 11. Adjustments like these will have drastic effects on your daily flow—from giving you new hours to focus to changing traffic on your daily commutes. (Just be sure to re-establish regular sleeping hours.)

Changing your routine doesn’t have to be dramatic, and it can even be something you simply try once or twice a week. Keep the rituals that are working, and test out the new routines a few times to see how they feel. Once you find a change you like, keep at it. Just remember to change it again if your creativity takes another dip.

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