The Third Something

139 / Daily Rituals

This creative routine works for me, it might work for you.

The author Jack Cheng recently shared his creative routine. I was inspired to see how another artist moves through their day.

In case it has the same effect on you, here are my daily rituals. I’ve been following this routine for roughly two years; it is responsible for a creative flourishing I’m experiencing.


Make coffee & brush teeth (15 minutes)

My day begins preparing one strong coffee with a splash of milk. I don’t touch the stuff for the rest of the day (coffee after 11 gives me the shakes). I sip it from one of those fancy Yeti mugs, so it stays hot for a good hour.

While it’s brewing, I brush my teeth. One of the best tips I ever got from Ben, my dentist, was to brush first thing in the morning (don’t wait until after breakfast). It clears out the night’s bacteria and, at the very top of the morning, is much harder to forget.

Meditate (20 minutes)

I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation for about 18 months and absolutely notice the difference. I don’t often transcend (in fact, I rarely do!) but I am more calm, centered and regulated through the day and react better in stressful situations.

The practice is 20 minutes, twice a day, ideally before activity: not always possible, but I do my best. It’s important to take a few minutes after meditating to sit in silence before moving onto the next thing.


Make Art (60-90 minutes)

A photograph of Adam’s workspace, featuring a drawing board, pencils, paintbrushes, plants and a lightbox

This is my gift to myself: to begin every day with at least one hour of focused time making art.

“Making art” for me means working on visual fiction, so I’ll either be drawing a page of comics, writing a script for one, or working on story design. If there is no story to tell that morning, I’ll practice figure drawing.

Spotify is on (usually working its way down my Discover Weekly playlist) and my coffee is still hot.

Sixty to ninety minutes each morning. On this altar I have filled more than a dozen sketchbooks, written 30 short stories, published two collections and started on the long road towards completing my first graphic novel.

Some days are good, others I strike out; but it doesn’t matter. There’s always tomorrow.

Shower & Breakfast (30 minutes)

90 minutes is never enough. My grumbling stomach is what prises me away from my desk, longing for more time.

C tells me that my breakfast is basically prison food: plain porridge in the winter months, and Shredded Wheat in the summer. She has found that eating a savoury cooked breakfast has improved her energy, I’d try it if I had the time!


One errand (60 minutes)

I make time for a couple of errands each day. It’s what you might call life maintenance: book the dentist, call the landlord, order new socks etc.

On a Sunday, I’ll stack up a list of 5-6 of these jobs that need doing and then spread them out through the week. Notion is good for this but not essential.

What’s important is I schedule a job — let’s say, paying off my credit card for Thursday — and then don’t think about it until Thursday. Organising my life this way – where jobs have allocated slots, outside of which they don’t exist — has freed up untold amounts of mental headroom.

Some other practices I recommend to alleviate decision fatigue are: building a capsule wardrobe of clothes that go together in many combinations, keeping a long list of recipes that you rotate through, and dividing your pay check into designated pots on pay day.

These habits make me feel more creative, in control and ready to respond to the unknown.


Journalism (7 hours)

At this point, my day splits into one of two paths, depending on whether I’m working from home or taking the 30-minute trip to the New York Times bureau in central London.

If it’s the latter, I’ll either walk, cycle or take the bus to the office and stay there until roughly 7pm. My colleagues in New York come online mid-afternoon, London time, so I get a good few hours of uninterrupted writing or editing before a flurry of meetings.

Swim & nap (1 hour)

On the days I work from home, the hour I save by not commuting I spend at the pool. There’s a lovely old Victorian public bath not far from my flat. I don’t count lengths (how dull!); I note the time as I jump in and aim to do 30 minutes of solid swimming.

My experience largely depends on who else is in the water but, if I get a rhythm going, my brain whirls away solving work, art and life problems while my body moves water.

Working from home also allows time for a cheeky nap and reader: I can’t recommend it enough. Lie on your back with a blindfold on and listen to a soundscape. Chase it with a piece of chocolate and a cup of tea for a speedy revival.


Meditate again (20 minutes)

Once I finish work I’ll fit in a second meditation. I find it easier to go deep on these later sessions for some reason. It’s recommended to do this before eating a big meal.


Dinner & switch off (2 hours)

The big downside of my daily routine is the evenings are very short. Once C & I have eaten dinner there’s barely time for one episode of TV or a chapter of a book before we’re ready for bed.

I don’t see as many movies as I used to and my social life is D.O.A., but at this stage in my life, the trade-off is worth it.

There’s always a trade-off, all you need do is pick your poison.


Weekend rituals: a walk in the woods and shabbat

I’ve written before about “psychoterratica”: a physical and mental distress caused by disconnection from nature.

My Saturdays begin with a bus ride over to a large, ancient woodland in London (yes, there are large, ancient woodlands in London!) I dress warm, pack a bottle of water and some snacks and then meander my way through the trees, following no fixed path in particular. I let myself get lost both externally and internally: it’s where I’ll pick apart a scene I’m writing or argue with one of my characters.

And, if I can find a spot where no-one can see me, I’ll embrace a big old tree, pressing my face against its bark, feeling its deep roots and a connection to the earth.

On Sundays, I ignore my routine entirely. We are humans, not machines, after all. I’ll sleep in as long as I feel like, make pancakes with C, read the paper, see a movie and meet up with friends.

Call me a workaholic, but I enjoy my routine so much that I miss it on Sundays and holidays. The break itself builds an anticipation, like winding back a spring: as a new week rolls back around, I’m coiled and eager to do it all again.

Closing thoughts

This routine may well seem joyless or at least lacking in spontaneity to you. I wouldn’t disagree on the latter, but experience has taught me that the more organised my life, the freer my art.

The secret sauce here isn’t the content of the routine, but its sustainability. You can (and should) replace all of these elements with your own activities and habits. What matters is building a routine that you can quite easily and naturally follow, not one that maximises your productivity.

Once your creative routine becomes second-nature, it matures into sacred ritual: a holy pact between you and the universe.

My creativity does not always show up but, when it does, it knows exactly where to find me.

Until another Sunday soon,

Adam's signature