My Daily Routine

A Day in the Life of an Illustrator … yawn

People are interested in the routines of creative people. They wonder if there’s some secret ingredient in the way they structure their day that somehow begets prolific creativity. If we can model the habits of those we admire, perhaps we too can sip from the same fount of creativity, or so we believe.

It is presumptuous for me to assume that people wonder about my own daily routine. At the same time, I have been asked before, so I figured, why not try and answer? In all truth, the prospect of listing my routine triggers my yawn reflex. I’m bored of this topic even before I’ve begun. But on the off chance this is at all helpful or interesting, here I go.

Hopefully you’ll stay awake for this. I’ll try to do the same. Here is my daily routine as of this second day in April, 2021. (Routines change over time).

06:30–07:30 — Wake up. Somewhere in this window of time. Pour myself a cup of coffee (or make it if my wife isn’t up yet). Make peanut butter and honey on rye toast.

Selectively skim notifications on my phone. Just sort of glance at the message intros or subject lines to see what kind of action is happening on email and social media. Avoid reading emails for now, especially client responses to work I sent them the day before. (An irritating message can ruin my day before it even starts and cast a shadow on an otherwise enjoyable morning).

Lately, I have gotten back into the habit of writing a to-do list. I just write it into my Moleskine journal. It is so satisfying to cross items off my list as I go throughout the day. It should be noted that I have found more success in planning my day, in making realistic to-do lists, by having a more predictable routine. For example, I can always add “Write” to my list, because I know I will write, and I know I will get it done. It’s a gimme. In other words, a lot of the items on my to-do list are just part of my routine. Then, I can add in whatever else I have to do that falls outside my routine.

08:00—Write. These days, 5 days a week, I come here, to Medium, to write. Sometimes I have an idea of what I will write about already, but more often I just sit there and start writing. Something always comes up. I used to try to write in 15 minutes or less, but that’s just not enough time. I often spend 1–2 or more hours writing and editing, and then another 10–20 minutes making a quick illustration.

Ideas usually come from one of these sources:

  • recent struggles or experiences illustrating
  • recent client interactions
  • recent questions with or interactions with students or social media followers
  • more general thoughts I have in the moment

My writing is less research based and more reflections on my personal experiences and thoughts. References I cite in my writing are always from something I’ve read or seen already, from memory.

09:00–10:30—Check emails. At 09:00, my studio is officially open. So I check in with email to make sure I can respond to anything pressing. Don’t forget to take my phone out of Airplane/DND mode!

11:00—Run. Right now I am training for a marathon. My training plan includes longer and shorter runs. If I have a shorter run (45 minutes or less) I will go out before lunchtime. If the run will be over an hour long, I usually prefer to eat lunch and then time my run to end closer to 5.

12:00—Lunch. I spend around 45 minutes making and eating lunch. I will either chit chat with my wife or catch up with social media.

12:45—Make coffee and get back to work.

13:00–17:00—Illustration time! By this time I am officially an illustrator. Warmed up from writing and checking emails, I finally feel ready to take on whatever client work I have on my plate. Depending on how focused I am, I will work all afternoon.

Of course, I do pepper in some distractions here, with the occasional check-in on Instagram, or response to a DM or comment that pops up on my phone. When there are too many distractions, I put my devices into DND mode, put on some music or a podcast, and plug away at my work as best I can.

15:00–17:00—Like I said, if I have a longer run, I will fit it into the end of the day, timing it so I can be home and showered up for dinner time with the family. I run later in the day because I am not a morning person at all, and also, I am in a much better mood after a run. If I am deep in my work just before dinner, it is hard for me to snap out of this mindset and be present for my family. I have a hard time turning my work brain off and immediatly switching to a more sociable mood. Especially because I work from home, running is a nice transitional activity between work and family time.

17:00–18:00—Dinner. We always eat dinner together as a family, always together. Fridays we do “Fun Food Friday”, where we get takeout or, occasionally, eat out (when not under lockdown!).

18:00–18:45—Piano Practice. I spend 20 or so minutes with each of my daughters, helping them through their piano practice. It is amazing to see my girls get better and better at piano, and as they advance, I see them on the verge of eclipsing my own abilities at the keys. The advantage for me is that I get to piggyback on their piano lessons. I have to keep up! So piano practice for my girls is piano practice for me!

Parenting tip: Piano lessons are a great tool for teaching kids the value of discipline and showing up, even when it feels hard or boring. We can always look back at when we didn’t know how to play as well, comparing it to where we’re at now. Even within one week, my girls see themselves able to play a song well they previously found difficult. When my girls get discouraged about not being able to do something well (at first), I can always use the example of Piano lessons as proof that, though we might suck at first, by daily practice, we do get better.

19:00–20:00—Bedtime routine (for the kids!). We start off by getting PJ’s and brushing teeth, and then gather for family prayer time. These days, since it is Lent, we are also reading daily reflections on this theme. Prayer in our family is based on the Orthodox evening prayer rule. We are not very spiritually strong or anything. We often find ourselves reciting prayers while our minds are elsewhere. But we show up, and this becomes a moment of checking in with our hearts and with God, however brief and insufficient. Much like showing up to write each morning, it’s a discipline that we may or may not feel like doing. It’s at least a moment of relative stillness, or at least trying to be still (kids have a lot of pre-bedtime energy).

One of the most important things about prayer time with our family is the moment to ask forgiveness for anything we’ve done during the day. We bow to one another and say, “Forgive me a sinner”. We each in turn respond “God forgives.” (Some will also add, “and I forgive”). On a conflict free day, this routine can seem mechanical and without heart, maybe even a bit silly—but on a day when, say, I really screw up, this moment of repentance, built into our routine, suddenly shows its power. We have to look into one another’s eyes and actually deal with our conflict there and then. It is especially humbling to have to ask my children for forgiveness when I know I’ve wronged them earlier that day. I think it’s so important for parents to acknowledge to their kids when they’ve screwed up. It shows that you can be in authority but also admit to your faults. Being a leader doesn’t mean excusing your faults, but owning them and being responsible for your actions.

After prayers, we spend a half hour or so reading. With 2 parents and two kids, we take turns with each other each night. After reading, we will cuddle in bed with the girls for a few moments. My girls always ask me to tell them a story about when I was a “little boy”. These have evolved to the point where most of my stories are not real, but just a random, ridiculous story I make up on the spot.(One of my go to tropes is when I was 8 and had to be the manager of a factory that makes some kind of toy or confection.)

20:00–23:00—Free time for Parents! At least 3 times a week, I will work out for a half hour (at home, body weight only or minimal equipment). Then, I might chip away at more illustration work if I feel behind. Around 21:30–22:00, my wife and I will reconvene to watch a show or two together. My go-to watch is The Simpsons. Occasionally we get into a show. Most recently, we tried to get into Ozark but found it too dark. Recent favourites include Ted Lasso and Somebody Feed Phil.

23:00—Around 11pm, sometimes later, I finally go to bed. I typically have too much running through my head, so I play a slightly interesting but not too intense podcast to drown out my thoughts. Stuff You Should Know is usually perfect for this, as long as the issue is not political or doomsday-related. These topics are fine for during the day, but only feed into my anxieties at night.

Weekends are less routine, and always reserved for family! I make sure to never take on work that requires or assumes that I will work through a weekend. That means no Monday deadlines!

So this is my daily, Monday to Friday routine. It’s really not that interesting, but there it is. I sincerely doubt that by following my exact routine you will find any additional success in your life. However, I do believe in the power of consistency and routine. Your day should be marked by small milestones, little breaks in the pattern. Some of these can be more flexible, and others can be non-negotiable. You can decide for yourself what these are for you.

A routine can be as minimal as having regular working hours (like 9–5) with a lunch break in there somewhere. Or it can be more regimented, with each hour mapped out, if that floats your boat. The most important thing about a routine is that, once you commit to it, you know what you need to do without thinking too much about it. It gives you a sense of whether you’re on or off track. When it’s writing time, I can confidently and comfortably reject all other activities. Even if my kids pop in for a visit during writing time, I can tell them (politely as I can) that they’ll have to come back later. It’s freeing to know that you don’t have to do everything, that in this moment, there is just one thing to do. You can do it better because it has all of your attention.

In life, there are so many things to distract us, to pull us in different directions. We feel we can’t get anything done. Things, in order to get done, need our attention. Routines help us pay more attention.

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Tom Froese

Tom Froese

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Illustrator. Creatively Empowering Teacher/Speaker. Represented by Making Pictures/UK & Dot Array/USA. Top Teacher on @skillshare. www.tomfroese.com/links