I have a confession to make: I’m obsessed with to-do lists. Writing up a list of everything I need to accomplish for the day makes me feel organized and in control. And, of course, it helps me meet deadlines and finish important projects. But sometimes I become so overwhelmed by all of the things that I need to accomplish that I forget to take time to recharge my creativity.
That’s when I thought to myself: why not add several activities to my list that will help re-inspire me after completing the other slightly more mundane tasks? By making sure to check them off my to-do list each day, they will quickly become daily habits. Without further ado, here’s a little peek at the most important section of my to-do list: five daily habits that feed my creativity. Add these five activities to your to-do list, and you’ll soon be leveling up your creativity too.
1. Help One Person Today
Benjamin Franklin is often referred to as a polymath: a person who was highly skilled in a number of different fields. To name a few, he was a politician, diplomat, inventor, scientist, author, and newspaper publisher. What was one of his secrets to becoming so successful? A daily to-do list.
Franklin woke at five in the morning and immediately began planning his day. By eight o’ clock he was busy at work on his different projects. Interestingly, the first thing he did in the morning was ask himself, “What good shall I do this day?” Before he went to sleep at night, he would look over his list and ask, “What good have I done today?”
As an inventor, Franklin was driven by a desire to think up contraptions that would make people’s lives easier. Asking himself, “What good shall I do today?” helped him arrange his priorities and keep himself mindful of the true goal behind the projects that he was undertaking.
Going out of our way to help another person is an incredible boost to our creativity. In this article from Psychology Today, the author explains how recent scientific research has shown that “we’re more creative when we’re solving the problems of others rather than our own.” Helping others forces us to step outside of ourselves: to widen our perspectives and think abstractly. And, best of all, it increases our happiness and makes the other person happy too.
Action Step: How many people can you help today? The very act of thinking about the different ways you can help someone already starts exercising your creativity muscle.
2. Write Something Today
I’ve talked before about the importance of writing every day in my article here: How and Why You Should Write Every Day. Essentially, it helps you become a more creative person because you must think up new ideas each day to write about, and then get to work bringing them into existence with your words. It forces you to clarify your thoughts and arrange them logically. And, finally, it gives you a constructive way to redeem the time by training you to work productively every day. Even if you don’t plan on becoming a novelist or a journalist, being able to write well is an invaluable skill.
Fear you will not be able to overcome writer’s block? I love this quote from the celebrated composer Leonard Bernstein: “You can sit there, tense and worried, freezing the creative energies, or you can start writing something. It doesn’t matter what. In five or ten minutes, the imagination will heat, the tightness will fade, and a certain spirit and rhythm will take over.”
Action Step: Depending on whether you want to keep your writing private or share it publicly, you can start writing in a journal or set up a blog. Writing on a blog will keep you more accountable because you will have an audience eager to read your thoughts (of course, you can also make your blog more private by only sharing the address with a few close friends). Read my article here on how to set up your own website. If you usually write nonfiction, try your hand at fiction and vice versa.
3. Read A Physical Book Today
Nobel Prize winning author Joseph Brodsky, whose work was censored in the Soviet Union, once observed, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
Reading invigorates and refreshes the mind. It lets us glimpse into the brains of the greatest thinkers in history. It is the only true way to travel back in time, to witness the rise and fall of empires, to journey to foreign lands, and to live a thousand different lives. No wonder that some of the most successful people in history needed no other education than reading a library full of books. Abraham Lincoln, for example, had little formal schooling but was an avid reader.
I love to read so I don’t necessarily need to remind myself to read a book each day. I usually have three books that I’m reading at the same time. However, I have started reading books on my computer more often than reading a paper and ink book. Yet, this fascinating article points out the differences between reading a book on a device like a Kindle or a book with real pages. The author observes, “Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards ‘non-linear’ reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.”
When we read a physical book, on the other hand, we are using the deep reading part of our brain. Again from the article: “It’s the concentrated kind we do when we want to immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document…Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.” Ultimately, we have stronger reading comprehension of a physical book rather than an eBook.
Action Step: Take time each day to read a real book: it could be anything from a novel to a biography to a philosophical treatise. Relax and think deeply about what you are reading. Don’t race through the words but consider them carefully. Enjoy the weight of the book in your hand. Let the ideas of the author stimulate new ideas in your own mind.
4. Have a Good Conversation Today
One of my favorite novels is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Set sometime in the distant future, it tells of a dystopian world in which firemen no longer put out fires but start them, charged with the task of burning confiscated books. Bradbury’s novel presents a sobering critique of modern society. In one passage, a character laments the fact that houses no longer have front porches:
No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong KIND of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches.
Our creativity is triggered by our interactions with the people in our lives. Deep and meaningful conversations force us to rethink our assumptions and puzzle through new ideas. In the 17th and 18th centuries, salons were organized across Europe: they were gatherings in people’s homes where friends would come together to exchange ideas and discuss politics, books, music, and poetry.
Action Step: Be intentional about sitting down and investing your undivided attention in a meaningful conversation with a family member, a good friend, or even a recent acquaintance. Maybe he or she can teach you something new or you both can inspire each other.
5. Go For a Walk Today
The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once mused, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.” I too have found that the peacefulness of an afternoon or morning stroll renews my creative energy and helps me unravel the tangle of ideas in my brain. In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway writes, “I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.”
The ancients had a Latin phrase about the importance of walking: Solvitur Ambulando. It means, “It is solved by walking.” The term originally referred to the Greek philosopher Diogenes’ response when asked whether or not motion was real. He stood up and walked away. Soon the phrase was adopted as a way to summarize how taking a walk outside energizes us and helps us think through our problems.
Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked, “When Nero advertised for a new luxury, a walk in the woods should have been offered. It is the consolation of mortal men. I think no pursuit has more breath of immortality in it. It is one of the secrets for dodging old age.”
Action Step: Surrounded by computers and cell phones and televisions, it is important to make sure we unplug from technology each day and get outside, enjoying the fresh air and the pleasure of walking. Find a safe and tranquil place (maybe your neighborhood or a nearby park) where you can go for a walk each day and get your creative juices flowing.
How do you renew your creative energy?