Habit forming

Ever dreamt an amazing invention or a catchy song?  You wake up with every intention of harnessing the idea — “OMG, it’s amazing” —  but you can’t find a pen or a piece of paper. Or your dog jumps on the bed so you just blindly start your routine and take her out for a walk.

Yeah, me, too.

I’m a daydreamer, and a creative thinker so I enjoy generating ideas. But ideas are very delicate.  They are easy to lose track of and hard to recover.

The solution I rely upon? Cultivating the habits that allow me to harness and remember the ideas I have fun dreaming up so I can put them to use one day.

Keeping track

So I keep a journal.  Several, actually.  One for art  and music project ideas, another for technology ideas, one for personal musings, and yet another the rants(!!). I used to laugh at my sister for writing everything down but now I realize her genius.

Capturing that amazing invention is as simple as reaching for my ever present smartphone and firing up one of my journal notes in Evernote.  Or cracking open my notebook and jotting it down in pen and ink when I am feeling old-fashioned.  And I know I have place for these ideas because I have cultivated the habit of writing down my thoughts.

My many habits

I do it in other ways as well.  I have the habit of keeping my music room clean, and set up for recording so I can document song ideas by grabbing the computer, hitting record, and sitting down behind the drums.  I learned this after spending a time or two trying to write a song and ending up cleaning up the space instead.

I started these habits to help me keep track of the art and music ideas that I was firing off, but I quickly realized that I have been putting the same ideas to work at my day job as well.  I have a habit of creating project documentation like design and architecture documents with the same outline.  I have the habit of creating training presentations by developing an outline, filling in the content then building the slideware. When I was coding, I had the habit of structuring my sites and CMSes with the same folder structure and architecture on the the front and back end.

Habits are so…routine

I realize I must sound like a bit of bore by now.  Habits are kinda dull, right?  I mean, they are by definition, ROUTINE.  This is all true. But these habits help me get to the good stuff.  I understand why Stephen Covey became famous for telling us how to create simple habits. I have implemented many content management systems and written a ton of code.  The fun is solving the business problem at hand, learning how to use that API you have never seen before or figuring out how to optimize the user experience.  It is not in figuring out what the directory structure is going to be.  It is not in setting up the drums, it is in writing that hypnotic beat.

I have built all these habits and process because I realized they help me harness my best thoughts and get to the fun of taking an idea from imagination to reality.  I am addicted to these structures.  I think they help me get the best out of my ideas.

How do you do your best work?


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Categories: Strategy, Workplace Reality

Author:Denise C Duncan

At CrownPeak, I think about how to make it easier to use our products by sharing our expertise and creating community. As a drummer, I keep it together so my 10 piece band can ride any idea out.

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13 Comments on “Habit forming”

  1. Jeanne
    August 9, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    Denise, this is an awesome blog! What’s interesting is that creativity actually requires routine. I never thought about that…

    • August 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      I’m with Jeanne. The image creative people often have is of a very unstructured life, unbound by the mundane and routine. In reality, too much chaos around the edges makes the central work much harder to accomplish. Routine is what keeps the sand in the sandbox.

  2. Craig
    August 9, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    This is an interesting article. I am a lucky or unlucky example also of the creative who also has a full time tech job. I may be the anomaly but i have horrible work/reminder habits. Perhaps i would excel more if I picked up a few. When it comes to creativity, the passion normally acts as my hard drive and everything is stored through till it’s over. Perfectly, probably not, but it carries me through. If I’m not really invested in something, it will slip away if not important. Thanks goodness for stored emails.

    I do recall some pretty creative conversations late at night in the kitchen with fellow actors in my 20s after a night of debauchery. We came up with some pretty amazing ideas. Ah, If we’d only had an iPad back then to jot them down, maybe we’d all be rich by now.

    • August 10, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      Hi Criag. Thanks for the comment! Oh those lost ideas. Funny how the ones we lost track of are the ones that would have led to fantastic success…

  3. Pat
    August 10, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Interesting. I especially like the music room idea. I do that with my desk. I’ll go clean it now and try to remember. Thanks. Look forward to your next post.

  4. August 10, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    This is an excellent statement about how structure and inspiration can interact to maximize time for focusing on what we, as creative and business people, love. I have one question for you, though, that relates to process engineering itself as a creative endeavor. How do you avoid scope creep in your habit-creation process?

    Do you ever run into the problem I do, that habit-forming can become habit-forming? Or, rather, habit-refining can become addictive and disrupt the integrity (automatic, unthinking) quality of your habits?

    I am always thinking about process, structure and systems in every aspect of my life: traditionally creative (e.g., painting), conventionally business-oriented (e.g., documenting client needs, tracking project hours) and domestic (e.g., shopping for groceries, storing pet supplies). Wherever I see an inefficient process in place, I try to change it.

    Like you, I think, I truly enjoy the process of abstracting a problem and coming up with a solution for it. Working on a discrete technology project, I capture and hopefully improve a client’s way of managing content through a few iterations in a project lifecycle. Time and money set limits on what can be achieved. End of story.

    In my personal and creative life, there is no defined scope. I love re-engineering processes, so I have a hard time leaving things alone. I’m also always second-guessing technology choices and worrying about forward-compatibility and obsolescence.

    How do you cope with this? I recall that you made good use of a Google note-taking platform that was phased out. You used it well, moved on, and now you’re combining Evernote with paper. How do you make those kinds of transitions without letting them consume too much of your creative energy?

    • August 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

      The habit-forming nature of forming habits…that might be a good topic for another post. I know what you mean, I have the same tendencies. I’ve started making boundaries – like specifying how often I can tinker with my processes and habits. I allow myself to re-evaluate my habits once a quarter or so…that helps keep me out of my own way. (^_^)

    • August 14, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      I couldn’t have said/written it better myself. Excellent comments. Detailed, yet clear and to the point. If there were a “like” button option for your comments, I would have selected it – since there isn’t one, I chose to reply and let you know that I “liked” your comments. :))

  5. August 11, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    Denise… I don’t know you but my good friend Chris is so inspiring and sent me this link! I’m so glad he did! Thank you for your blog! Habit Forming is just what I need to form better habits to do more effective work!

  6. August 13, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    I’ll have to counter somewhat, from a discussion I had with Gabe Newell, President of Valve Software when I followed up an article about how they structured themselves to develop the Half-Life hit game. While Routine and Habit can have the positive effect, the structure that lies around it and binds it may actuall constrain true inspiration. Obviously from a corporate sense, I only wish I was musically talented !

    “The simple answer is that hierarchy is good for repeatability and measurability, whereas self-organizing networks are better at invention,” Gabe said, “There are a lot of side effects and consequences. The lack of titles (roles) is primarily an internal signaling tool.”

    “The alternate answer is that organizations that think they are hierarchical actually don’t gain advantage by it (they actually have hidden networks), and that the hierarchical appearance is the result of rent-seeking.”


    • August 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      I don’t think our ideas are in conflict. I think there is big difference though, between organizing a group to be creative and an individual. As an individual, these habits work for me cos they keep me focused. Otherwise, I would be chasing and attempting to develop ideas…now I write them down and develop them more when I have time.

      One on my musical projects, though, is organized like the Half-Life team (kinda) We are a huge band (10-12 folks) but there is no ‘leader’ and all of ours songs are improvised. I am not really sure how it works, but we are able to be make good music by being attentive to each other, and letting the most inspired take the lead when it’s right. Different circumstances call for different approaches.


  1. Crash diets don’t work | Successful Workplace - August 21, 2012

    […] a fallacy accelerated by the Internet of Things. The real success comes from day-in, day-out habits that shift the probability for success in our favor. 47.285448 -2.393236 EmailMorePrintShare on […]

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