Shake Your Routine

by Stefan Mumaw

Routine is an anomaly, a process that is both needed and unwanted. Without routine, our minds would explode as we would be forced to carefully weigh the decision of every move we make.

Consider the routines we have employed in just getting from our beds to the car every morning. Without routine, we’d have to decide what to do every minute of every day. Routine keeps us sane.

Creatively speaking, routine serves a similar purpose. We need routine to ensure projects are completed in a timely manner, that business tasks are predictable and measurable, that concepts go from idea to production to shipped. But routine can also be creativity’s assassin. We often bury creative growth under the dirty clothes pile of routine, trading “efficiency” for creativity. Its not until we look up from our assembly line of tasks that we realize the work we are doing is homogenized, a commodity that we are desperate to remedy but find difficult to escape.

Routine isn’t actually the culprit. Routine, as a concept, should actually help us be more creative by assisting in the production of ideas so that we can explore freely. Often, it’s our reaction to routine that stalls creative growth. We allow repetitive thought to replace original thought, in the name of all kinds of things: productivity, profitability, apathy. That’s not to say we can’t be both creative and productive, quite the contrary. Creativity, at its core, is an act of efficiency. It is problem solving, and as such, is innately intended to create efficiency. But when we blindly fall back on routine and allow it to overtake creativity’s primary purpose, we find ourselves in need of shaking routine to solve problems creatively. How do we do this? We target firsts.

Every problem presents an opportunity for firsts. Firsts are when we encounter something for the first time, when we choose to try something brand new to us in an effort to produce novelty. It may not be novel to others, but its novel to us and that makes it a first. It may be as small as a new font you’ve been dying to try or as big as a new medium you’ve never worked within. Routine often strips us of firsts, replacing exploration with experience. If we want to shake routine, we need to find ways to insert firsts into our process. Here’s how:

Set a First As a Project Goal
It may seem trivial but there’s power in formally declaring a first as an internal goal for a project. If we never declare it formally, whether verbally or textually, we will succumb to the pressures of the project and fall back on routine when the going gets tough. If we consciously make a goal of finding a first in a project, it will be much harder to sweep under the rug at the first sign of resistance.

Keep a List of Desired Firsts
As you research and seek inspiration, keep a list of the things you’d like to try sometime in the future. Keep everything from colors you like to techniques you admire. This list will provide you the fodder you need when a new project launches. When you list a new item on your firsts list, predict how long you think you’d need to explore or use that item. Doing so at the time of listing will keep you from marginalizing that item later when you want to try it out on a real project.

Acknowledge Time
Firsts require time, we have never experienced them before and we will need time to fully understand them. Knowing what kind of time you have available will determine what level of first you can explore. If you have only an hour to play with, you can use that hour to explore typographic treatments, seek out a place to take and insert original photography or integrate a foreign color scheme. Have a few days at your disposal? You may choose to try your hand at illustrating your own typography, experiment with photographic treatments or build a Look Book to inspire the project along the way. Understanding the time available on every project will guide you in determining what firsts you can insert.



Firsts are routine-busters and they often provide much needed energy to even the most mundane project. The next time you’re faced with yet another project like the last few you’ve undertaken, seek out what firsts you insert into the process and find that ray of creative light.


Quick Tips

1. When you set your project goals, set at least one first as an internal goal, then work to keep it.

2. Keep a list of firsts you’d like to explore, then reference that list and the associated time when a project calls.

3. Time is the key. Identify what time you have available and only take on firsts that fit the available time.


Dig Deeper!
1. Scott Belsky covers organizing our creative process to allow for exploration in his book Making Ideas Happen

2. Here’s a wonderful look at how creativity and time intersect

3. Get more creative insight on CaffeineFB


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