20 creative habits to kickstart a productive day

Need to mix up your morning routine? Starting your day creatively can help set you up with focus and flair.
an arm coming through a bright yellow wall, hand holding a white mug.

Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics and re-think your first steps of the day.

While there are plenty of wellbeing guides already out there to have you starting your day like a boss, this list is different, because it takes its cues from artists and their creative points of view.

It includes simple techniques that artists use to prime their bodies and minds for maximum daily energy – starting with some essentials, before journeying to more unexpected places.

Pick and choose from this surprising smorgasbord to power-up your creative days!

1. Breathe

This first tip is one of those ‘stop before you start’ pieces of wisdom. It’s also something we have heard a million times, but often forget to do in the rush to start our days.

It doesn’t mean you start the day like a monk in meditation (necessarily), but focusing on your breath and realising that, ‘wow, I have lungs, and I can fill them right up with air!’, makes a huge difference to how you move from that point on.

2. Stretch

Like breathing, this tip is almost instinctive, but we often forget to stretch out upon waking. Instead, we usually opt for the zombie roll out of bed followed by zombie march to the nearest coffee station.

Read: Why lying down is an artistic superpower

But when we zero-in on how our muscles feel first thing of the day, and make gentle efforts to stretch them out, it can have huge impacts on our mindset and energy levels for the rest of the day.

3. Shake out

Some artists are big on the power of movement to unlock their creative power. They might go for a walk, run or swim before starting their day (artist Lindy Lee does laps for an hour every morning before starting her work).

But if you’re short on time, you can do a quick, simple shake-out of your body as a stress reliever and a great way to shed general body stiffness first thing in the day.

4. Write something

This technique is from the gospel according to writer, artist and composer Julia Cameron, who has made her name with her book The Artist’s Way where she sets out some first-thing-of the-day rules for maximising your creative flow.

At the top of Cameron’s list is journaling – specifically writing in a stream of consciousness style, first thing in the morning. It’s a practice she calls ‘morning pages’, and it is something that she, and millions of others around the world do every day to focus their minds and prepare for their day.

5. Draw something

A conventional way to use a pen or pencil at the start of the day is to write your trusty ‘to do’ list. While these are handy, why not use your pen or pencil to draw something first thing of the day instead?

Drawing any object you can find around the house that looks interesting enough is another beneficial creative act that slows your mind and heart rate to help you enter the “flow” state that many of us seek to power our creative days.

Image: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels.

6. Give thanks for something

Gratitude is a well-known way to set your mind on a positive track. When we have the capacity to give thanks for some of the small and seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives, we soon realise how lucky we are.

Giving thanks for something (in our heads or out loud) is a proven way to set a good mental outlook for the day.

7. Flip through a picture book (no screens allowed)

This tip is about ditching your device as the first thing you do in the day and picking up something on paper instead.

Artists have an unfair advantage in this area because their shelves are stacked with art books which provide amazing visual stimulation at any time of the day.

Whenever you can, flip open a paper picture book in the morning to feast your eyes on some offline (and no doubt more interesting!) visual inspiration.

8. Get upside down

While yoga fans already know the powers of getting upside-down, the rest of us shouldn’t feel bad if we can’t headstand our way to wellbeing (in fact, yoga headstands should not be done without training, so don’t try it at home).

A simple alternative to the yoga inversion is a gentle bend over, stretching our arms to the floor with our heads upside-down to help get the blood flowing and boosting our creative powers.

It’s also another great way to shift your visual perspective and see the world in a whole new way.

9. Look at your work (or something else) upside down

Many artists are known to turn their work upside down as a way to get a fresh take on it, because if something is not working, it might just need to be looked at in a new way.

Try altering the way you feel about your day by looking at an everyday object from a totally new angle. It’s a wonderful way to shift your mindset and mode of thinking.

10. Move some small objects around

No knowledge of feng shui required for this one! This tip is more about harnessing the powers of the simple hand-eye movements we do when we are sorting, stacking or arranging things with our hands.

These actions, and the focus we bring to them, can lower our heart rates and help declutter our thoughts (but it’s best to set a time limit, so it doesn’t become a form of procrastination!).

11. Try something without perfection

Artists are forever experimenting with new ideas without fear of failure, and there is great power in embracing a similar mindset where we simply try something and see where it might lead without thinking about the end product.

Read: Overcoming common roadblocks to getting started

If you can quarantine a small part of your mornings for a “try it and see” task, it can open new creative pathways and unlock new thought patterns for the rest of the day.

12. Look at something as if through a microscope

Just like the act of closing our eyes, the notion of zeroing in on the miniscule and microscopic parts of our world can shift our perspectives and bring our focus and concentration to new heights. When we ‘just look’ at something close-up and with heightened attention, we lower our heartrates and blood pressure and prime our bodies and minds for entering that magic ‘flow’ energy state.

13. Close your eyes and focus on touch

Have you ever noticed how much more you can hear, feel or taste with your eyes closed?

Sometimes, blocking out our visual field is the best way to bring your other senses alive. Try closing your eyes while doing something like drinking your coffee or brushing your teeth, to help encourage alternative thought pathways and maybe some new ideas!

14. Look up

This is a tip borrowed from our architect friends. As designers of skylines and many things high off the ground, architects know the value of tilting our heads higher than we normally do as we move through our days.

With modern life trapping us in default ergonomic positions of looking down into devices, taking a moment to look up reveals a surprising amount above the horizon.

15. Do as Merce Cunningham might do

American choreographer Merce Cunningham was a big fan of randomness and chance, and was famous for withholding details of his repertoire from his dancers until just before curtain up.

Cunningham often devised his steps according to the roll of a dice or the logic of I Ching. It’s a creative technique that empowers you with a sense of limitlessness, as well as some fixed outcomes.

Why not incorporate these playful scenarios into your morning routine to keep your creative and/ or conceptual processes fresh?

16. Visualise your spine

This one is more Martha Graham than Merce Cunningham, but Martha was Merce’s teacher for a time, so there are some links between the two.

One of Graham’s most famous sayings is ‘the spine is the tree of life’, as she believed the spine is the body’s most vital engine and support structure underpinning our range of motion, breathing, thinking and speaking.

So take a moment to visualise how you spine is supporting your movement and breathing, and if it isn’t well aligned, take the time to re-adjust it to help expand your body and mind.

17. Listen to a new piece of music

While you might be addicted to certain morning melodies, mixing up your playlist is a great way to awaken different creative capacities and alternative ways of thinking. So, expose your ears to unexpected sounds and see where they lead your creative thinking for the day.

18. Smile

Even if we wake up frowny, a simple smile can help us shift gears and change our mood inside and out. Smiling helps release feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain like dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, which in turn trigger feelings of reduced stress and greater contentment.

Smiling can’t solve all the world’s problems, but it’s an effective way to boost our chances of entering that magical creative flow state, and help us enter zones where we can do our best work.

19. Laugh

Why stop at a smile when you can have a laugh?

Laughing is no laughing matter for some people, who take its benefits so seriously they form laughing groups and attend regular laughing sessions.

The science behind these seemingly bizarre habits is that, like smiling, laughing releases a whole lot of healthy hormones that help shift our brain into more levitated states. So don’t forget to have a belly laugh in the morning to charge up your creative day.

20. Drink enough water

Finally, drinking water is possibly the least creative thing in the world to do, but it’s another one of those basic human needs that we often forget about as we dive into the millions of daily tasks we feel we must get done.

Hydrating is up there with ‘wear sunscreen’ as one of the simplest, but most useful life lessons, and the difference it can make to your creative capacities is profound.

Staying hydrated is vital to our productivity, and dehydration is a leading cause of fatigue. So keep that H2O within reach throughout the day to curb hazy thinking and to keep your mind alive.

ArtsHub's Arts Feature Writer Jo Pickup is based in Perth. An arts writer and manager, she has worked as a journalist and broadcaster for media such as the ABC, RTRFM and The West Australian newspaper, contributing media content and commentary on art, culture and design. She has also worked for arts organisations such as Fremantle Arts Centre, STRUT dance, and the Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub of WA, as well as being a sessional arts lecturer at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).