It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere.
Many of us are slowing down, taking holidays, having friends to stay, spending time with our children while they’re out of school.
It’s a season to be kind, and not beat yourself up about work. To do what you can, when you can. When you can’t get to your creative projects, try to enjoy the sunshine, the lighter nights, your precious time with friends and family.
But some work can’t be avoided. We all have bills to pay, deadlines to meet. And it can be challenging to get back into flow straight after a holiday, or to abruptly switch from parenting to creating mode when you have a few days available to work.
This is why you need a reset routine.
Creatives work is often unpredictable.
An exciting new job comes in. A deadline moves forward. A project that had been on hold for months suddenly gets the go-ahead and takes over your life. Or a project that you thought would take a week swallows a whole month instead, putting you behind on everything else.
No matter how well-organised we are, no matter how regular we are in our work habits and routines, there are always times when life has other plans.
We can’t avoid these. And many of us don’t want to. We thrive on variety and enjoy the adrenalin rush of a tight deadline, a new and exciting project coming unexpectedly.
The trick is not to let these derail us completely. To do what we need to do, then go back to our regular creative habits as quickly as possible.
My reset routine grew out of necessity.
There was a point in my journalism career when I often travelled to LA or New York for interviews, usually flying from London and back in a couple of days – and very rarely in the part of the plane where you get to stretch out and sleep.
After getting home tired and jet-lagged, I’d often lapse into a kind of dazed half-life. I’d stare slack-jawed at daytime TV, spend hours scrolling social media and answering unimportant emails, or wander round the house aimlessly touching things, unable to remember why I’d gone into that room.
I was too tired to know what I needed.
So I developed a checklist to remind me to shower, unpack and put a laundry on as soon as I got in. I’d drink at least eight glasses of water, ticking them off my list, one by one for a few days, until it became automatic again.
Before I left, I made sure the fridge was stocked with fruit, salads and lean protein to replace the sugary and salty snacks I knew I’d crave. And if I was tempted to sleep before evening, I did some gentle stretches then went out for a walk instead.
The following day, I went to my desk even if all I did was stare at the blank screen or rant in my journal, feeling sorry for myself. I’d give it an hour or so. If I was still not writing my feature by then, I’d go out to a coffee shop, order a strong kick of caffeine, and work there.
It’s absurd for a grown human to need this. I often felt like a real-life tamagotchi toy, methodically caring for my own needs. But following my list, step by step, always got me back in rhythm more quickly than my old routine of lying on the sofa eating chocolate Hob-Nobs and watching Homes Under The Hammer.
This is why you need a reset routine
We all have times like this. A tour, a theatre run, a big deadline or rush job that takes over everything. That weird lull after the end of a long and involving creative project (a book, film, album, show, fashion collection, exhibition).
A reset routine gives you a comfortable place to land, to recover, and to regain your rhythms quickly, whatever life throws your way.
Create one, and keep tweaking it until it works for you. Then keep it somewhere handy for when you need it. Mine lives on my phone, a checklist of items I tick off when I’m tired or just struggling to get back into my rhythms.
Here’s what to consider:
- What do you need to eat and drink, when you’re tired, stressed or otherwise out of balance?
- What unhealthy snacks or activities do you crave when you’re under pressure, and what could you replace them with?
- Does some sort of movement or exercise help?
- Reset your environment. Unpack if you’ve been away. Put away all the materials from the big project you’ve just completed. Do a quick tidy up if you’ve got into a mess.
- Clear your head. Get out your journal and do a debrief of the trip/jpob you’ve just finished if you need to, analysing what went well, what could be improved next time, what you’ve learned, points to remember. Or just celebrating a good holiday/summer break.
- What’s important now? Is there one key thing to do first, that will make everything else easier? Write it down. Get clarity. Then do it!
- What gets you into flow? Is there a specific playlist, place, a way of setting out your tools, a mantra you repeat? Is there a ritual that reliably gets you into the zone? Whatever it is, make sure you do it.
- What’s your procrastination activity of choice? Set rules around this, and decide how you might avoid it. For me, a walk is so much more helpful than scrolling, for instance. So I don’t use my phone or iPad at all until after 6pm on a reset day. I can nap when I’m tired, but I set an alarm. and I don’t ever watch day-time TV on a working day.
Not all resets have to be dramatic.
After a day or two off, your reset routine can just be about clearing your head and/or your workspace, and writing down your priorities. Once you’re clear what matters, decide how long you’re going to work before you take a break. Then begin.
During a normal working day, it can be as simple as clearing your desk, stretching or taking a couple of deliberate, deep breaths before you move from one task to another.
Emotional resets are important, too.
Don’t just push your feelings down and plough on after an upsetting email or phone call. Rejection hurts. Disappointment, too. Criticism can be useful, but it’s also wounding.
Acknowledge how you’re feeling. Name it. It can be oddly helpful just to say to yourself, “I feel hurt that I didn’t get a grant this time round – and that two of my friends did. I’m envious of them and I feel bad about that, too.”
Then let it out. Put some music on and dance it out for a couple of minutes. Thump a cushion. Vent in your diary. Or just sit quietly and fully feel whatever it is you’re feeling. This is often far more helpful than replaying it in your head on a loop for the rest of the day/week/month. You’ll get over it faster, and it won’t distort into depression, or a sudden irrational burst of anger later.
So: what disruptions are you likely to face this summer?
What throws you off-balance most often? And what might help you recover faster?