11 stealable habits that support my business + creativity

Trying to build better creative habits? Want to build habits that will support your business? Steal these 11 habits of mine!

The music at First Avenue is eardrum-ruining loud and – like an idiot – I’ve forgotten ear plugs. After a few songs I can’t enjoy because I’m certain I’m going deaf, I push my way towards the bathroom. I’m convinced I can fashion makeshift ear protection from tiny, wadded up pieces of toilet paper.

And it is there, in the bathroom stall at a music venue, that I see a quote that changes the way the way I navigate my professional and creative life:

We are what we do every day, so we might as well make it count. Click To Tweet

I ignore the profanities and graffiti surrounding this gem and stumble back into the music, thinking about this. If I am what I do every day, what things should I be doing every day? What kind of life do I want and what can I do every day to help me get there?

I thought about this, friends. I thought about it for the rest of the concert. I thought about it as I drove home. I thought about it as I lay in bed, squinting at the ceiling.

And then I slowly and systematically started to create habits that support theprofessional and creative life I want.

My business-supporting habits

1. Once or twice a month I schedule “mutually beneficial brain picking calls” with internet buddies

What’s working for you? What’s not working for you? What are you working on that I can tell my people about? Where are you stuck? OMG CAN I TELL YOU WHERE I’M STUCK. I want to start a Youtube channel, what do I need to know?

These are but a tiny sliver of the many and sundry questions my friends and I ask each other. We talk about which platforms are too expensive or overrated, which ecourse we’ve loved (I love this one), how we’re avoiding burn out.

We usually end each call by scheduling the next one and 20 minutes later we send each other emails with links to all the things we mentioned. It’s such an easy, low-pressure way to move my business forward and help my friends do the same!

Related: How to befriend bloggers without feeling awkward or stalker-y

2. Every Sunday I publish a link roundup and tell people I’ve linked to them

There was zero strategy behind the first link roundup I published (I was traveling and feeling simultaneously lazy and pressed for content). I’ve been publishing Web Time Wasters for almost six years and I regularly hear that it’s one of readers’ favorite things on the internet.

Those Sunday posts have also helped me develop and strengthen wonderful professional relationships, bring in Big Deal Clients, and make several thousand dollars every year in affiliate sales.

Now I have a system for corralling links and content and the whole thing is nearly on auto-pilot!

Related: Why link roundups work + How to make the most of yours

3. Every month, I take myself on a DIY writing retreat

Are you sick of me talking about this yet? Too bad! It is career-changing and I will go into retirement shouting about it!

I plan out what I’ll write on my retreat, I pack my bags, and I drive myself to the same wifi-free alpaca farm in rural Wisconsin every a month. (Shout out to Al and Faye! You are the best!)

Every month, I write 80% of my content in those two days. Every time I come home I’m amazed and almost embarrassed by what I can accomplish without distractions.

Related: If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!

4. I use the Pomodoro Technique

This is a fancy way of saying, “I work in 25 minute chunks and take five-minute breaks.”

It is, of course, slightly more involved than that. During those 25 minutes, I “monotask,” I don’t check email or social media. I don’t go hunting for photos or links to embed.

And during my five minute breaks, I push myself away from my desk and do something that doesn’t involve a screen or keyboard.

I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for years. Now I feel like my time is unpleasantly unstructured if I don’t have a timer going somewhere. HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN TO TAKE A BREAK, GUYS. As someone who’s prone to over-working and burning themselves out, it is so, SO helpful!

5. Every night I make a 5-item to-do list for the the following day and I always include one ‘fun’ thing

One of the best “productivity hacks” I’ve ever encountered is “Just put less on your to-do list, dude.” If I put 15 things on my to-do list and I “only” finish 13 of them, I’ll probably feel like a failure.

If I put five things on my to-do list and finish all of them I AM AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE OF AWESOME.

I’m someone who sometimes need to be reminded close the laptop already and go live in the world. So I’ve found that adding one fun thing to my to-do list every day nudges me to prioritize my non-work life and stop crowding out my happiness.

6. I have a system for gathering testimonials, feedback, and repeat sales

Google calendar + canned responses + template emails = nearly automated business goodness.

If you’ve ever booked a Secret Weapon package with me, as our time together wrapped up, you probably got a “So, what did you think?” email from me.

And if you’ve ever bought ad space, as your month ticked down, you probably got a reminder email, offering you 10% off your next booking if you re-upped.

That’s because I’ve made a habit of devoting an hour of the 25th of each month to checking in with my people, updating testimonials, and preparing for the coming month.

My creativity-supporting habits

7. I walk the dog every morning before I start work

It clears my mind, calms our anxious dog, helps me get in some of those 10,000 steps, and helps divide my day into “calming morning time” and “productive work time.”

I take the same route every day so I don’t have to think about it. I try not to let myself off the hook even if it’s rainy, muggy, or otherwise unpleasant. My morning feels weird and sort of mushed together if I skip it!

8. I keep my workspace clean, pretty, and inspiring

To be filed under the heading of “Not Surprising” I have a variety of pretty photos around my desk that remind me of my goals. I’ve got my Happiness List tucked above my printer so when I’m feeling grumpy, lo! Solutions are at my fingertips!

I’ve got my list of core desired feelings. I’ve got my potted plant and my calendar made with photos from the previous year. I’ve got a beautiful desk and a desk chair that’s both pretty and functional.

And every night before I go to bed, I put away the bits and bobs that have accumulated, bus dishes, wipe of the cat hair. It take 30 seconds but it helps me feel more creative, inspired, and productive.

9. I read. A lot.

Every morning, I read for as long as one cup of coffee lasts. And every night I read till I fall asleep.

Sometimes I’m reading self-development books. Sometimes I’m working my way through the novels of a specific writer. Sometimes I’m reading cookbooks I have no intention of ever cooking out of. It’s oddly calming to read about food. No plot points to follow! No villains to worry about!

Regardless of what I’m reading, this habit improves my writing, gives me piles of ideas, and introduces me to new writing styles and turns of phrase.

10. I ask ev.ery.one “What are you reading/watching/listening to that I should know about?”

When conversation lulls and I’ve already asked people about their weekend plans and/or pets, I like to ask for their book/tv/podcast/music recommendations.

This is how I’ve found some of my favorite stuff! GLOW, Captain Fantastic, Bitches Gotta Eat, the 74 seconds podcast all entered my life this way. And I am better for it! I think this is a particularly great question to ask people who are quite different from you. Like, what is my 67-year-old aunt reading? What about Bangladeshi grad student I met at that bbq? Or the 23-year-old dude who works in tech?

11. I have a lot of friends who don’t work in marketing or internet-ery

Dudes, I hate conventions and conferences. I do not want to talk about sales funnels at a party. I don’t want to meet a friend for a hike and then talk about conversion rates as we crest a hill. I AM BORED JUST TYPING THESE THINGS.

So I’ve made it a habit to prioritize and strengthen IRL friendships with people who do things that aren’t marketing or internet-related. Some of my closest friends are social workers, teachers, vets, photographers, architects, nurses, and trades people. What a relief to not talk about hashtags and open rates!

Giving my brain a break from work-related stuff means it’s fresh, ready, and inspired when I do ask it to think about that stuff.

But I want to hear from you! What daily/weekly/monthly habits that support your creativity or career? Tell us in the comments so we can try them out!

P.S. If you’d like to make your good habits stick, click here to join my free workshop on Thursday!

photos by Sebastian Mantel and rawpixel.com // cc

22 Comments

Kelsi

Can I just say that your posts are just ultra ON FIYAH right now?!?! I’ve always enjoyed your content but it’s really been speaking to me in the past few months! I’m bookmarking everything! Thank you, Sarah!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Oh, gosh! You’re so kind to say so! I’m trying to be a lot more intentional and strategic about it 🙂

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diana lovitt

Thanks, dude. Great ideas.
I love the questions to ask others to get to know the them and to turn me on to things I may not otherwise run across.

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Gigi

Yay! I’m actually leaving in about half an hour for my first no-internet DIY writing retreat. Two days of quiet on a mountain finishing revisions on my novel. I’m nervous and excited at the same time and hope it works as well for me as it does for you!

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Julia

I might have to borrow your writing retreat location. That looks lovely! Great ideas all around Sarah!

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Sarah Von Bargen

It is amazing and I can’t recommend it enough! Last time I was there they had ducklings!

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Jacqueline Fisch

Love it! I have ducks and chickens in my yard too though. Which is making me think… maybe I need to AIRBNB this place! You’re welcome to house-sit and duck/chicken/dog/cat watch anytime we’re going out of town!

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Sabrina Clementine

I love structure, so I am really loving these habits, especially the business related ones! I recently moved, so keeping my desk pretty and organized has been a high priority, and so far I’m doing an alright job.
(Side note, I just signed up for your program last night…I’m so pumped! My first habit will be working out in the morning. Wish me luck!)

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Eva

Hey Sarah the post is amazing! I like the way you write so much!

Here some of my habits:
Unfortunately we don’t have a dog but I cycle to work (still my full-time job) every day that helps me to sort myself for the day.
Once a day a try to read something offline because even 6min of reading on paper destress one. And I draw regularly – just silly sketches some of them I use on the blog but this is my biggest resource to stay relax and practice creativity.
I also have a sketch book with me ALWAYS so I can make notes or sketch sth anytime.

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Jacqueline Fisch

I love that you do writing retreats! For me, it’s more of an annual thing right now! How long do you go for each month?

My creative-fueling daily ritual is sitting down with my coffee and writing 3 full stream of consciousness pages (a la Julia Cameron). The best free therapy out there!

I’ll schedule “wine and paint nites” at my house too – way cheaper than going out to do it, I don’t have to worry about wine and driving, and we can paint whatever we want with no time limit!

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rebecca

Dang it girl! I have been “following” off and on since prolly 2008/9ish and though I fell out of the internet world a few years back I was so STOKED to see you were still cooking last year when I came back to the fold. Now I can’t get through a quick FB sesh without bookmarking or clicking over. Love this list and love you (in the totally not weird, stalkery, internet bud kind of way.) 🙂

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Kendall

I just had to let you know this post made me stop and say YES. I’ve been in a creative slump lately and needed some inspiration to get myself back on track. One of the things I’m going to do is work on changing up my morning routine to get my day started the right way. Again, thank you for writing such an awesome post!

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