‘Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.’ Twyla Tharp
So it’s almost January, and you might already have made a well-intentioned list of New Year resolutions. Within days, you’ll probably also break many of them.
The truth is, winter isn’t the best time to make a fresh start. The nights are long and dark, the climate is damp and cold. It can be hard to motivate yourself to do anything, let alone suddenly start going to the gym every day, take up running or launch into a big new project.
It’s also true that habits only stick if we do them consistently, and don’t try to change all of the things, all at once.
For the past few years, I haven’t made any New Year resolutions at all, and it’s been a relief. I review the previous year instead, celebrate my achievements, examine what I could do better, and think about new habits I need to put in place to support me, going forward.
This year I’ve come up with 12 creative habits I want to introduce, to support my work and my growth. Rather than overwhelm myself by trying to start them all at once, I’m going to introduce one new habit a month, and really cement it into my routine before introducing the next one.
If you’re interested in doing the same, James Clear’s book Atomic Habits is a forensic look at how to develop new habits, and get them to stick. I’m also going to write here at the end of every month, letting you know how I did, what worked for me, and what didn’t. And what I am going to continue with, moving forward.
Here are the new creative habits I want to work on. Yours might be different. But a new habit a month — even tiny ones — can lead to some big shifts for you by the end of the year.
January: Meditate, every day
January seems a good time to start a habit that is quiet, inward-looking, and doesn’t involve going out in the dark and rain.
Most of us know the benefits of meditation by now. We all know the lists of high achievers who have a regular meditation practice. We know there are excellent apps like Headspace, Waking Up or Insight Timer that can help us make space in our day to sit still and look within.
I’ve done excellent meditation courses. I’ve even been on retreats. And I know how much it benefits me.
When I meditate regularly, I’m calmer, more creative. I sleep better and feel less stressed, less rushed, even when deadlines are piling up.
And yet… I don’t do it. And even when I do, I rarely manage a week without skipping a day.
Meditating more frequently has been on my to-do list, my resolutions, my best intentions for 20 years. And I’ve never established a regular practice.
So this time, I’m starting small. I’m going to try to do at least 10 minutes every morning, creating an unbroken chain up to February 1.
You can read more about how I’m planning to do this, and how you too can establish a new habit here.
February: Morning Pages/journaling
I first learned about Morning Pages in Julia Cameron’s brilliant book, The Artist’s Way. It’s a way of reconnecting with yourself, your ideas and creativity. It’s also a way of clearing out all the nonsense, complaints and nagging to-dos in your head before getting on with your day.
You can read more about it in more detail here. Briefly, it’s just three pages written quickly in longhand, without over-thinking, editing, self-censoring or engaging your inner critic. It’s not meant to be beautiful, grammatical, or nice, and it certainly shouldn’t ever be read by anyone except you. One friend calls it his waffle diary. Another refers to it — charmingly, but not inaccurately — as word vomit.
I try to do this every day, but in the past couple of years I’ve been inconsistent with it. Sometimes I just want to get up and get on with my own writing work. Other times I’ve had an early train to catch, or life just got in the way.
I want to reintroduce it, alongside more thoughtful journaling. On days when I don’t get my morning pages in, I want to take at least 15 minutes at the end of the day to write something more considered in my journal.
I also want to take an hour at the end of each week or month to look back on how it all went, and to decide on my focus for the week/month ahead.
March: Create something, every day
This is a big one. It also seems appropriate in the run-up to spring, and the start of new growth. For me, this means writing, every day, without fail. And again, I’m going to start with a tiny goal that should be easy to do, every single day, no matter what else I have on.
Ideally, I’d like to be writing at least 500 words a day. But my goal for March is simply to write for 10 minutes. When I’m travelling. On weekends. When I’m ill, busy, have a full day of coaching clients or a houseful of guests.
April: Learn something new, every month
April is the start of the financial year, and the time I set new goals for my business. There are always new skills I need, new technologies to master, new subjects to learn about. And thanks to the internet, a wealth of resources to help.
Here’s my personal challenge: I want to know all of the things, all at once. So I sign up for courses, order books, start one thing — I’ll set up a Facebook group! Then skip to something else — But first, I need to learn how to use Canva!
So: one thing a month, every month.
Complete the course. Read the books. Apply what I’ve learned. See what works, and what doesn’t. Then choose my learning focus for the following month.
This is also about letting go of perfectionism, applying what I’ve learned and putting it out there, even if it isn’t great and I need to learn more to get it up to standard.
I can hone it later. It’s all about making small, regular improvements, rather than making great leaps.
May: Walk, every day
I already know the benefits of this. We all do.
Walking helps us think more clearly. It makes us happier, more productive. If you want to read some of the scientific research on this, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has a useful summary in the Walk chapter of his book Rest — Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.
But really, conduct your own experiments with any new habits. Get curious. Try them, and notice what makes a real difference for you.
As a writer and a coach working from home, I can easily avoid going outside for days on end. Yet the second I step outside, my mood lifts, my energy rises, and I can think more clearly.
I live in a beautiful area on the English coast, surrounded by fields and woodlands. Flowers are blooming in May, the sun is starting to shine. It’s a good time to make a daily walk part of my routine, and get it fixed firmly in so that I continue it when winter comes back round.
Again, I’m not going to raise the bar so high that I fail. Just 15 minutes a day of deliberate, solo walking will do. I already usually manage a weekly one-hour walk, because I’ve always found that’s when my best ideas come. I want to see what shifts with a shorter daily walk.
June: Weekly play date
Another tool from Julia Cameron, although she calls it an Artist’s Date. It’s at least an hour a week, spent doing something new, something out of your comfort zone. Something that makes you smile or makes your heart sing. It’s another way of reconnecting with yourself, finding new ideas and inspiration, and rediscovering what brings you joy.
This used to be a firm part of my routine, but I’ve let it slip. I live in a very small town now, and it’s challenging to find new things to try. I’ve got lazy with it. This is the month I bring it back into my life, regularly. If you want to be endlessly creative, it’s important to go seek out stimulation, new ideas, inputs, inspiration.
July: Ten ideas a day
This one comes from James Altucher, who writes about it in more detail here. Choose a theme, and write down ten ideas, as quickly as you can. It doesn’t matter if some of them are too weird, silly, ambitious or impossible. The point is to get the ideas flowing, to give yourself the freedom to think outside the box.
Sometimes you’ll want to play with different themes every day, other times you might want to keep at something for a week or more.
Want to be more healthy? List 10 small changes you could make, every day for two weeks, and you’ll have 140 suggestions — at least some of which you’ll want to implement.
Short of ideas for your blog? Again, 10 ideas a day for a week is 70 new subjects. That gives you good odds on finding some that will actually be worth researching and writing.
Not earning enough? Think of 10 different ways you could make or save money, every day. A month of that will give you 310 cash-generating ideas. Some of them will be absurd. A few might even be offensive. But some of them will be things you really could get going on.
August: Drink more water
Another of those habits we know we should do, yet we don’t.
If I get a headache mid-afternoon, it’s a sure sign I’ve forgotten to drink enough. I used to be permanently dehydrated, but I’ve improved by habit stacking: adding it to things I already do automatically.
There’s a glass of water in the bathroom that I fill and drink every time I brush my teeth. There’s another glass on my desk that I refill throughout the day. I have a bottle ready in my bag for days when I’m out and about.
This month I want to improve on that, and really work at putting systems in place to make sure that I always drink at least seven glasses a day.
September: Do some marketing, every day
Most creatives get the work done, eventually. We love to make things. It’s who we are.
What many of us are less good at is finishing, showing our work, putting it out there, building a following of true fans and selling consistently so we are supported by our work.
September is the start of the academic year, the time when we all get back to work after the summer holidays. It’s a great time to focus on building an audience, and making your work pay.
How you define this one is up to you. It might be posting on social media, networking in person or online, approaching a new publication, writing a blog post/newsletter, connecting with someone you’d like to work with, or reaching out to a new gallery/shop/outlet who might sell your work.
Experiment, play with it, see what works for others in your field. And when you find something that works for you — do more of it.
The important thing is to put systems in place so it’s easy to do, and make it a non-negotiable part of your routine.
October: Get more sleep
I’m a poor sleeper. I take ages to fall asleep, I often stay up late into the night reading, watching junk TV, or playing computer games.
I feel tired. A lot. And this is something I’m now determined to address. So why leave it so late in the year?
First, I’m hoping some of the new habits I’ve already put in place will help. Also, I want time to declutter our bedroom and make some real changes there.
By October, I will have invested in a new mattress, new bedding, and everything I need for a better quality of sleep. We spend a third of our lives in bed, yet very few of us buy what we need to be truly comfortable there.
November: Read, every day
Confession: I already do this one. I’ve always been a voracious reader.
But I want to refine it, and read much more intentionally. To spend at least 15 minutes a day reading a non-fiction book, and then make notes on what I’ve learned in my journal.
I also need to carve out more time in the day for it, instead of reading late into the night.
December: Take a risk, every week
Do the scary, uncomfortable thing, at least once a week.
Reach out to someone you don’t know well, and suggest a coffee, a meeting, a date. Ask for something you need. Go do something you’ve never done before. Make a fool of yourself. Fail. Pitch to a publication that feels well out of your league. Connect to your dream client on social media. Make yourself vulnerable. Apologise to someone you wronged.
Even as I’m writing this, I’m filled with dread. But every step we take outside our comfort zone expands our horizons. And who doesn’t want to live in a bigger, more beautiful world?
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Want my free 10-day course, Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives? Click here.
If you’re wondering how I did, here’s what I learned from meditating every day in January (you can apply it to forming any new habit):