The Extremely Unsexy but Effective Key to Being Creative
Photo courtesy of "miss pupik".

The Extremely Unsexy but Effective Key to Being Creative

Written by Janet Brent

Topics: Creativity, Productivity

A couple years ago, I took a career sabbatical and joined a Buddhist monastery retreat. We were introduced to a rigid schedule of 6:30am chanting meditation, walking meditation, silent meals, study, chores, and sitting meditation.

The routine was comforting and freeing at the same time. While some of us joked that we felt like we were in a “prison,” there’s something very comforting about set structures, routine and rituals that frees the mind. Perhaps this is why so many prisoners themselves find God, have an awakening, or profound spiritual transformation while they are imprisoned.

My graphic design client, a productivity coach, and I were discussing the importance of having systems and containers to harness creativity. To serve creativity, instead of stifle it. To create containers where creativity has room to grow and blossom. Because lets face it, your best work can’t happen without structure. This is why designers start with creative briefs or client questionnaires. The blank slate can’t be completely blank. We need direction, a focus, a structure.

Without structure, we won’t be able to visually communicate what you want, and to have complete free range with no direction means a stab in the dark. A nightmare client is someone who has no clue what they want, and isn’t interested in the collaborative process of figuring out your brand/visual identity.

Characteristics of Success

Successful people have some common traits.

1. They wake up early. They start the day early to get more things done. They might have a morning routine before getting into a work schedule.

2. They exercise. They make sure to move daily. This might be part of their morning routine, or it could be bursts throughout the day, to break up the work routine and inspire creativity.

3. They are highly structured. They structure their day to be more organized and productive. And it works. They push forward. They make goals and achieve them.

These three traits revolve around schedule, routine, and structure. When you develop structure, you’re free to grow and free to create. Structure takes care of activities and your mind is free to do the rest. Structure creates a container. When it comes to creativity, it’s also good to think inside the box. Structure builds a better container for creativity to run free.

Creating More Structure

As a multipotentialite, it can be a challenge to focus, or feel like you’re making headway on all of your projects. This is where creating structure comes in. When you have the systems in place, you’ll have more freedom to do your own thing, like a well-oiled machine.

Tools – Whether you utilize old fashioned tools like filing cabinets, folders and notebooks or the plethora of digital and tech tools–software, apps, websites, smartphone–this will help you organize information and create a system.

Systems – Once you have the tools in place that you want to use, you need a system to be able to use the tools and a way to access information and take notes. How do you organize your ideas and track progress? This is where process comes in.

Processes – Processes are daily routines, weekly check-ins, quarterly reviews, etc. In order to maintain systems, you’ll need to have a process. Discard what isn’t relevant to you. Only track the processes that matter, and decide what those are. What needs tracking? What’s working and not working? Constantly evaluate. If you’re doing something that’s working, find out why it’s working and scale it. You can automate your processes to have more time to do your work, create, and explore.

Habits – You’ll need to turn your processes into a habit. Do them regularly to keep momentum going and stay productive. Create a framework. It’s also possible to outsource your processes and hire a virtual assistant, for example. But you’ll still need to instill habits, create processes, routines and standard operating procedures for your VA to follow.

Time-management – Once the infrastructure is in place for your systems, managing your time is the last thing to polish to stay focused and productive. Give yourself deadlines. Set a far reaching goal and set little deadlines along the way so you keep on track and take steps to accomplish the goal. Try to work without distractions. If you need to, I find it easier to work offline to keep distractions like social media out. Only do social media and check email at certain times of the day and give yourself time limits.

Your Turn

How have you created structure and systems to free up your creativity and add room to explore? What works for you?

janet_aboutJanet Brent is an intuitive graphic/web designer for creative, holistic and heart-based entrepreneurs. She’s interested in passionate people making positive change. Find her blogging on Purple Panda and on twitter @janetbrent.


  1. Janet!

    L-O-V-E this post! The headline drew me straight over to read it.

    I’ve noticed that since I’ve developed my 1 proof, 2 rounds of revisions and then the final design structure and process, I find I’m not spinning my creative wheels wondering which client is in what design phase and vice versa. Little did I know (until I read this post you just wrote) that it’s a good thing to have structure!

    Kudos to the peeps over here at Puttylike for finding a gem like you to write for them.

    Kudos to you for introducing me to not only the word multipotentialite, but to I just signed up as a subscriber :-D


  2. Linda Griego says:

    Hi Janet. All I can say is you did a DAMNED good job at this article. Some, actually many of these I am not currently using but that’s going to change. Thanks for your talent and inspiring words – and actions! Please keep it up!

    • Janet Brent says:

      Thanks Linda!! Thank you for reading. I’m pleased with how this one turned out. Was ‘stuck’ and then just came out of me after a good conversation with a client, who had all the ideas and enlightened me!

  3. Great article Janet. Two things I would offer are this. 1) Occasionally alternate between structure and non-structure. Routine can become, well… too routine. But be intentional. Pick a day or even a week where the structured purpose is to be unstructured, to let go of it all, gather your creativity and bring it back to the routine (and maybe even show ways to alter that routine for the better). 2) Get rid of nearly everything you have hanging around. Best systems are simple systems, just as with monastery life. This leaves un uncluttered mind and an uncluttered desk for ideas to roam and manifest themselves. Hope you are well, Zeus.

  4. Eric says:

    I have been out of work for a little over a year now, and my structured routines definitely have suffered. Sure, I have some loose routines (wake up, make coffee, breakfast for the kids)but somewhere around 9:00 it starts to disintegrate. It’s kind of like the Cheech and Chong movie where Tommy Chong is in a band and suggests that they all wear uniforms, but all of their uniforms should be different. The routine is there, but not so routine that it is a habit. I really need to get that structure back into my days. Thanks for the reminder, Janet

  5. Sarah says:

    Great article! Thank you!

    I’d really like to challenge one point, though: the early to rise one. Most other successful creative types I know find the END of the day to be the most rewarding and fruitful. Night owls may not be early to rise, but they are no less productive. Sorry, I just feel this is something listed in SO MANY articles about how to be successful or on building a structured schedule (which I do think is great!). It’s just not how many people are wired. Some folks–many creative types–are just night owls and that’s ok not something that necessarily needs to be changed.

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