Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rituals of Preparation: Making the Most of Your (Oh So Valuable) Time

Being both an editor and a writer, one of the most difficult things for me is actually getting my day going. I confess that I am a notorious procrastinator, both in my creative and professional life. Part of this is habit, but the other part is not always having an anchor in my day that tells my brain it is time to get to work already, no more excuses, no more fear.

Luckily, I have found a way to make my time count. World-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, in her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, talks about the importance of ritual in beginning her day. She says, "I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual."

Don't get me wrong: I am not saying we editors and writers need to get up at the crack of dawn to get the most out of our day. The point is in the ritual itself: one act that signals in our minds that the working day, whether it be creative or professional, has begun. For me, this means rolling out of bed in the morning, walking into the kitchen and making a pot of coffee. The moment I hear the dripping hiss of the coffeemaker waking up, a switch turns on inside my brain that tells me it's time to get to work. By the time I take my first sip, I am already sitting at my desk, planning out my projects for the day.

Tharp says, "Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it's too late to wonder why I'm going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed...The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It's also a friendly reminder that I'm doing the right thing. (I've done it before. It was good. I'll do it again.)"

So if you're like me and need a little something extra to get you going, try establishing a ritual that makes your space feel good, and most importantly, makes you want to get to work, whether it be on the story you can't bring yourself to start or the editing project gathering dust on your desk. As Tharp says, "The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn't scare you, doesn't shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working habit that's habit-forming."

So pick your ritual, get to work, and, like me, you may be surprised at how much more productive you can actually be.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Andrea! I know I definitely have a hard time getting my day going when I have no boss telling me to be to work by a certain time. I often say I'll start a ritual like walking my dog first thing every morning, but I rarely follow through. This post reminds me that it's time to make my goal and stick to it. Not only will starting a ritual help me get going in the morning, it will also make my day more productive if I focus on centering and cherishing creativity as my first activity of the day.