A Love Letter to Discipline

Working in the creative field "blesses" you with all kind of prejudices and absurd beliefs. One of the recurring myths that I'm confronted with is that artists and creative workers need chaos. Nobody I know would actually say that they "needed" less structure to thrive, but actually learned the skill to embrace the chaos out of necessity; what made them successful was actually getting their creative work done despite the chaos and the lack of their dream work circumstances. Let's be honest, it's so much easier to procrastinate work while we're waiting to get the perfect journal, a fancy computer or a place in this super creative coworking space. If we wait for the perfect circumstances to establish a work routine we'll most likely wait forever. It's easy to fall into the trap to attach work to the environment and feeling productive while making to-do lists even though we'll never actually cross anything off the lists (unless writing a to-do list made it on it, but this is another story). There seems to be a boom recently about organization systems and creating the perfect work environment to be successful. I found it so relieving to find the blog post of writer Austin Kleon where he wrote about tidying up: "Tidying up a studio is, sorry Marie [Kondo], not life-changing or magical, it’s just a form of productive procrastination. It’s avoiding work by doing other work." It leads to the lesson that being busy is not necessarily a measurement of productive and meaningful work.


Building a structure is a key motivator for discipline. It creates the focus for any work, where we define what has to be done in order to accomplish a certain outcome. A good structure leaves enough space for unpredictable circumstances and time for exploration. Any creative work has to honor that in order to translate thoughts into a medium you have to actually think and feed your thoughts with life. Disclipline means too to honor times to rest, that we're humans who get overwhelmed and sick and need to adjust the structure accordingly.


Pablo Picasso coined the term "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working" and it contains so much truth. Define when you will get your work done. I'm commuting between 6 to 10 hours every week. As I choose public transport it leaves me with extra time to get my creative input, I read books, listen to podcasts or write. It's part of my routine to visit my public library at least once a month in order to choose the books for the month, fill my podcast feed the night before and to always take a journal with me to keep ideas close. 

Anne Dillard wrote in her meditations on the life well lived: 

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern."

Routine builds the pattern of our lives, it's the default system of the mundane. Our habits feed the routine and will define in the long-term which life we will be living.


We all have heard the saying that a plan without a deadline remains a wish. I really do believe that in order to accomplish anything we need accountability, which might look different to everybody: a time-frame with a deadline is great, an accountability group where you can share your process is another option or you organize regular Skype conversations with a like-minded spirit that helps you to work from little goal to little goal. If you want to reach any specific goal you have to break it into actionable steps, little milestones along the way, and reward yourself. Don't wait for acknowledgment of others (or you'll be doomed) get concrete rewards for yourself. 

Accountability is the little sister of endurance and both like to be motivated with small rewards in order to accomplish the big goal, otherwise it is so easy to lose track and get lost in the forest of self-doubt and be haunted by the fraud police (a term Amanda Palmer coined referring to the fear of waking up one day and having the fraud police telling you that you have no clue of what you're doing and are faking being qualified for anything).

Discipline creates possibilities and I am grateful for that.