Being creative isn’t easy. In fact, it’s something you have to work incredibly hard at. Though we often think of creatives as prodigal geniuses who were born with a paintbrush in their hands, the reality is that every person who’s achieved greatness has done so by getting up every day and working at their craft, doing whatever they can to put their 10,000 hours in.
So what can you do to start down the path of excellence? Well, according to Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRaven the answer is quite simple: make your bed.
In his book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things You Can Do to Change Your Life… And Maybe the World,” the retired admiral explains that making your bed is a simple task you can accomplish every morning that helps set the tone for a healthy and productive day.
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” he said in the famous commencement speech that preceded his book. “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
In that spirit, and in honor of National Make-Your-Bed Day, we reached out to a variety of creatives from the Passion Passport community to see what habits or routines they’ve incorporated into their daily schedules — and travels — in order to increase productivity and establish a creative groove. Here’s what they had to say.
Missy Dunaway (@missydunaway)
Who she is: Missy Dunaway is an artist and illustrator based in Portland, Maine. In 2013, she traveled to Turkey on a Fulbright Fellowship to study Anatolian textiles, and since then, she has attended artist-in-residence programs all around the world. Throughout her travels, she has kept a visual diary, filling Moleskine sketchbooks with acrylic-ink paintings of the landscapes and cities she’s passed through. Today, the sketchbook includes more than 200 pieces and will be exhibited at the Grand Rapids ArtPrize 2018 from September 19 to October 7 of this year.
Her creative habit: “I have two daily practices that are essential to my creative routine. The first is going for walks. I purposely park a mile away from my day job so that I walk before and after work. This clears my mind before heading into the studio at night, and as a landscape and cityscape painter, it exposes me to inspirational material. The majority of paintings in my pictorial journal are scenes from my daily walks.
“I also enjoy cleaning. I’m a tidy person by nature, and I find that an organized workspace encourages creativity. Making artwork isn’t always relaxing and fulfilling; in fact, it’s often very discouraging. After work, when I’m tired or frustrated, I prefer to talk with friends or watch a movie rather than challenge myself artistically. For this reason, I try to keep my studio as inviting as possible so that it feels like a place of comfort and refuge. I put on soft lighting, water my plants, light a scented candle, and play my favorite music. When I’m finished, no matter how late at night, I ‘close shop’: I clean my brushes, put my paints back in rainbow order, and make sure the space is welcoming for the following day.
Passion Passport features: Missy Dunaway and the Worldwide Travel Sketchbook
Briana Moore (@brianamoore)
Who she is: Briana is a freelance photographer and writer who specializes in community-driven storytelling with a focus on lifestyle, travel, and portraiture. Over the past few years, she’s launched and developed Travels with Quigley, a modern exploration of John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley,” in which she traverses the globe with her eponymous jetsetting terrier. In addition to the photos and essays published through her blog, Briana is working on a book chronicling her and Quigley’s experiences.
Her creative habit: “When it comes to productivity, there have been many tips and tricks that have worked for me over the years: leaving my phone in another room when I’m working, taking breaks every hour to stretch and be productive around my home, and only checking my email during certain hours. However, I find that the single most important practice for helping me stay on-task has more to do with the times I choose not to work at all. As a freelancer, I spent years sucked into the devastating habit of working at all hours of the day, often long into the night. I justified that this worked well in my life because I was ‘on a roll’ or because my husband was in grad school and also worked odd hours. I failed to notice that the late nights were affecting my sleep, my focus, my health, and my marriage. One simple habit has changed all of that: once dinner is served, my work is over. Evenings are sacred, whether I’m reading, out in the city, in conversation with friends and family, or simply enjoying an episode of Colbert on the couch with my husband. Knowing that I will sign off in the evening keeps me focused during the day, and it has brought a greater sense of perspective to my work.”
Passion Passport features: The Storyteller’s Daughter; Welcome, Iceland; Following Steinbeck Across America; The Riad Less Traveled; A Dog-Friendly Guide to NYC; How to Make Your Passion Project a Reality; A Layover with Briana Moore
Jarrad Seng (@jarradseng)
Who he is: Jarrad is an Australian-based photographer, filmmaker, and creative director. He’s established himself as one of Australia’s most prolific creatives, joining international tours with musicians such as Passenger and Matchbox Twenty; collaborating on tourism campaigns, art installations, short films, and charity projects; and even competing on season two of “Australian Survivor.” In recent years, he’s hung out of open plane windows to shoot the aerial landscapes of Iceland, captured portraits of Maasai children in remote Tanzania, and spent five days hiking through the world’s largest cave in Vietnam.
His creative habit: “I’m not nearly disciplined enough for most daily routines, though a regular habit I’ve maintained over the years is the upkeep of what I have imaginatively named ‘the Logbook.” It’s a massive spreadsheet detailing my activities every day for the past few years. Originally created based on advice from my accountant (requiring evidence of my travel expenses for tax purposes), it’s turned into a comprehensive record of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the flights I’ve taken, and the wonderful people who have been generous to me on my travels (hello, Christmas Card list!). It’s gradually become my way of keeping stock and defragging the hot mess that is my life — it’s frighteningly often that I wake up and have no idea where I am. I find the Logbook helps de-clutter my brain and forces me to break down the blurriness of my reality.”
Yulia Denisyuk (@insearchofperfect)
Who she is: Yulia is a freelance travel photographer and writer who was born in Kazakhstan, grew up in Estonia, and now lives in the United States. She’s traveled the world extensively and turned to a travel journalism career after spending more than 10 years working in large organizations — first as a Navy Sailor, and later as a brand manager at Fortune 500 companies. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet’s Travel Anthology, AFAR, Turkish Airlines Skylife, and more. She’s also the founder of NOMAD + JULES, a small-group travel company that orchestrates trips to destinations that often get a bad rap in the media.
Her creative habit: “It is easier than ever before to pursue creative projects. But it is harder than ever before to stay focused and concentrate, with constant distractions from email, Slack, social media, and the people around you who are all competing for your attention throughout the day. As a creative professional with frequent deadlines on stories, photography projects, and more, I experience this firsthand on a regular basis.
“The routine that works extremely well for me is simple. When I have a story to write, I set the alarm clock two hours before my normal rising time, which — for me — means 5 a.m. I set the coffee pot the night before and get up when my household (including my dog) is still asleep. Not even entirely awake yet, I sit in front of my laptop and start writing. I put on my headphones and play one song on repeat (a book has been written on the psychological mechanisms at play here). This simple combination — a half-asleep mind and a song on repeat — puts me in the state of flow, and it’s a trick that many creative people swear by. I write like this for an hour, and during that time, creativity seems to flow like a fountain from a mind that is not yet fully engaged with the demands of the working day ahead.”
Passion Passport features: Dancing to the Rhythm of Love in the Dominican Republic; The Long Way Home, Part One; The Long Way Home, Part Two; A Wall Runs Through It; How To Photograph Ordinary Moments While Traveling; The Wonders of Jordan, Part One; The Wonders of Jordan, Part Two; A Layover with Yulia Denisyuk; Searching for Wonder in Chiang Mai
Laura Austin (@laura_austin)
Who she is: After growing up in small mountain towns in Colorado and Vermont, Laura Austin moved to Los Angeles, where she currently works as a photographer and writer. With a background in graphic design and journalism, Laura has found her niche in visual storytelling and aims to make the simple fantastical and the fantastical feasible. She has worked with a variety of clients, including Nike, Google, Uniqlo, Luna Bar, Oaklel, and Timberland.
Her creative habit: “For me, exercise is vital to productivity… specifically riding my bike. I live in the thick of Los Angeles, but constantly crave nature. On my bike, I can escape the city quickly. I see cycling as a form of meditation, an escape from city life, and an endorphin boost. It’s the best way for me to clear my head. I return home with a sense that I have accomplished a feat first thing in the morning — it makes any other tasks seem manageable.”
Dennis Schmelz (@dennisschmelz)
Who he is: Dennis Schmelz is a filmmaker and photographer from Erfurt, Germany. Within the scope of his work, Dennis discovers new and exciting places, meets interesting people, and comes into contact with unique stories that he aims to share with the world through his content. His travels have taken him to 50 countries around the globe, and he’s embarked on a variety of adventures including a trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway and a winter photography workshop in Greenland.
His creative habit: “I’m still working on my morning routine. Each day, my plan is to wake up one hour earlier than I think I need to and use that extra time just for myself (making music, exercising, reading a book, meditating, etc.). But that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Sure, making your bed is a good start to the morning, but it’s even better to also do something that’s good for yourself as a first act of the new day. I’ve found it can improve both your creativity and your mood. At the moment, my ‘first act’ includes a cold face-wash, a coffee, and a snack before I have to rush to the office — but I’m working to improve that!
“On my last filming trip, we woke up every morning around 3 a.m. for the sunrise and a one-hour hike to the summit. We slept in tents, and since that wasn’t as comfortable as waking up in my own bed, it was much easier to get up. The one-hour workout and sunrise was a beautiful start to the day, and I’m working to incorporate that idea into my life back home?”
Renee Hahnel (@reneeroaming)
Who she is: Renee Hahnel was born in Melbourne, Australia, and only five years after that, she caught the travel bug when her family embarked on a road trip up the country’s eastern coast. Today, she lives in Seattle with her husband, Matthew, and runs the Renee Roaming blog, which covers topics such as adventure, photography, social media, being a woman in the outdoor community, and traveling as a couple.
Her creative habit: “Being a travel photographer and blogger, I spend around 70 percent of the year away from home. When I’m back in Seattle, it’s imperative for my health and business to have an established routine. I start each morning rising at a similar time by using the ‘bedtime alarm’ on my iPhone. I make my bed, throw on some workout clothes, wash my face, drink a glass of water, and head into my office. I’ve structured my workspace to be a sanctuary of sorts — a quiet space for reflection as well as my place of work. I turn on my oil diffuser, sit down in my meditation corner, and practice stillness for 10 to 20 minutes. Afterward, I write in my five-minute journal — which is essentially a gratitude and goal-setting practice, for those who haven’t heard of it. From there, I head downstairs to move my body, either through a quick yoga or body weight/resistance workout. Lastly, I have my morning coffee or tea while spending some time reading or listening to a podcast.
“Only once all this is done will I consider taking my phone off of airplane mode and beginning my day’s work. I usually fit this routine into a 60- to 90-minute window (depending on how long I work out). These morning rituals help me start my day off with clear intentions and a positive mindset, therefore boosting my creativity and productivity throughout the day.”
Passion Passport features: Documenting All 59 U.S. National Parks
Zach Murphy (@the.traveling.zam)
Who he is: With a background in graphic design and marketing, Zach Murphy has turned his artistic passion toward documenting the unique people and places of the world through the lens of photography. He’s worked as a portrait photographer for a studio in Australia, captured the beautiful landscapes of the Mediterranean for various travel companies, and created awareness as a humanitarian photographer for non-profits and mission organizations in Africa, Asia, and South America. He also founded the Faces of Places Project in 2015, which seeks to capture humanity through portraiture.
His creative habit: “The best way for me to stay inspired and be pushed creatively is to break my routine. As a traveler, I find myself waking up in a new place every few days, meeting new people, and trying new foods. It’s the people I meet and the ever-changing horizon that pushes me to travel deeper and explore further.
“However, I find that within my constantly changing environment, there are a few steps I can take that allow me to be most productive in my travels. First is finding a good map. I use Maps.me, an offline map that can be downloaded before any journey and that tracks your movements without a data plan or WiFi. It’s a crowdsourced platform, so as other travelers use it, certain points of interest are highlighted on the map. Viewpoints are the most essential spots for me as a photographer, so I make note of hilltops and tall buildings while planning my route. Additionally, I use Instagram to see what other travelers have found picturesque. I can search using hashtags, geotags, or aggregate accounts to find the best spots to visit. Then, I screenshot photos for inspiration and tag their locations on my offline map so that I can keep track of them as I’m exploring a foreign location. The third step is to use non-Golden-Hour times to do the footwork and scout out the locations and angles I want to shoot so I can be efficient when I return during preferable lighting. Since I’m a runner, I try to incorporate my exercise into this location-scouting as well. I typically do this without the weight or distraction of my camera, and focus instead on maximizing my time and simply enjoying a familiar activity in a foreign location.”
Rachel Rudwall (@rachelroams)
Who she is: Rachel Rudwall is an Emmy-nominated on-camera host, producer, camera operator, speaker, writer, and photographer based in Los Angeles. A seasoned adventurer, Rachel has explored nearly 70 countries across all seven continents and has hosted travel shows such as HLN’s “Vacation Chasers” and the Travel Channel’s “Epic Lists.” She is also the creator and host of the popular “UROAM” web series, in which she travels to destinations chosen by her followers and produces short videos chronicling her adventures there.
Her creative habit: “Unfortunately, getting the creative juices flowing doesn’t just happen at the snap of a finger for most of us — we have to be in the right mindset for those sparkly little artistic neurons to start firing. (Or, alternatively, under the crushing weight of a tight deadline — I find that always helps.) For me, the best way to get the creativity flowing is to get my blood flowing first! My strongest inspirations typically come from being active outdoors… there’s nothing like spending a few days hiking in the backcountry to strip away the mental blocks and reveal the creator in me. When I don’t have time to get outside, however, I still make time to be active every morning, starting the day with a high-intensity workout. Getting my sweat on encourages the production of both endorphins and creative deliverables, as it boosts my happiness, my sense of self-confidence, and the amount of head space I’ve got to relax into the creative process.”
Passion Passport features: 33 Female Storytellers Who Are Changing the Face of Travel
What do you do to get in YOUR creative groove? Sound off in the comment section to let us know!
Header image by Christopher Jolly