Dull days always start out the same – I’ve made a to-do list the night before filled to its edges with unrealistic expectations, every hour allocated, every break restricted. But the next day I sleep in. I’m 2.5 hours “behind” and when I sit down at my computer to catch up, my mind is blank.
So I don’t do any of it. I sit on the couch, scroll through Instagram, flick through Netflix and start to watch a movie before switching to another. I don’t read. I don’t catch up with friends. I don’t go for a long walk. Instead I hold myself captive because if I can’t do the work on my to-do list, I can’t do anything – it becomes a cycle where I beat myself up for doing nothing instead of enjoying the time off.
But recently filmmaker, artist and writer Miranda July changed how I think about dull days. In her Lost Child talk, she helped me see that such time is essential for creativity and simply part of the process.
‘It doesn’t really matter if you were shit all day. Unless you were just on Instagram all day – surely there were some moments when you weren’t – so those goes in the bank and you are just accruing enough to build the brain that will be able to figure it out.’
When the pressure to always be creating, always moving forward, and always producing surmounts, we forget that there is a natural ebb and flow to our lives and instead become clogs in the wheel.
But as July said, sometimes we are just not ready to do good work.
‘You can’t do it today, you are just not smart enough, you have to accrue more time pushing on that muscle before it will do this and suddenly you will have the whole idea. That is how it is for me – it’s a whole lot of misery but these days I just think, well, great, another miserable day in the bank.'
Despite their necessity, dull days are hidden from view. Rarely would you see someone gloat, ‘I’M HAVING A SHIT DAY’. Rather, they might share a well-lit photo of a plant on Instagram, or of them reading an interesting book on the couch – an attractive, socially acceptable veil for feeling stagnant and alone, but no one really has to really know that.
Even though we curate our own lives to highlight the good bits and mask the bad, it’s easy to forget everyone else is doing the same. We compare our dull days, our insecurities, our failures, unaccomplished goals and everything that is seemingly going wrong in our lives, to other people’s showreels of success after success.
To debunk the myth that everyone else is doing just fine 100% of the time, we asked some of our favourite artists, illustrators, writers and creatives to share what really happens on a dull day.
From hangovers and ‘extreme slothing’, to running errands or getting stuck in a spiral of self-doubt, we hope these ordinary routines provide comfort that you’re not alone in “wasting days.”
The ordinary routines of creatives
Spencer Harrison on extreme slothing…
My body clock is normally pretty accurate so I still wake up within half hour of my weekday time, around 8-8.30am, no matter how late I was out the night before!
After a bit of bleary wake up filled with regrets and hazy memories of the night before, I normally stumble down stairs, drink multiple glasses of water, take a couple painkillers then back to bed to doze for a couple hours.
Around 10-10.30 the water and painkillers would have kicked in, along with a dosage of guilt having missed my usual healthy breakfast and meditation in the morning. I’ll lay in bed for a bit longer, checking my Snapchats for replays of the night before, before deciding to get up, shower and make breakfast.
I normally feel not too bad at this point after a shower and have the energy to make a delicious cooked breakfast for myself, the go-to being poached eggs on toast with some various sides. I normally plan ahead for these hangover days so have everything on hand in the fridge so I don’t have to face the bright, bright world outside.
After breakfast it all starts going downhill and I find myself being drawn to the couch to enter a phase of extreme slothing. This is a chance for myself to indulge in my low-brow side, watching all those trashy movies and reality show I don’t normally watch during the week.
I’ve kind of come to peace with these unproductive kinds of days, seeing them as a bit of a balance to my normal, busy, routine filled days. I’ve reached a point now where I don’t feel any guilt about completely writing off any of my usual routines and just devolving into an amorphous, couch-laden blob for the day.
After a movie or two I’ll normally succumb to a nap for an hour or so and try and regain the energy to order some take out or pop down to the shops. By this point the reality of the week ahead is starting to hit so I need comfort food to sooth me back to normal. After dinner it’s early to bed, some more trashy television and then off to sleep – usually with a final vow to never drink again and be healthy for the following week.
Read Spencer Harrison's routine
Lisa Currie on being a lump in sheets…
Every so often I fall into a really broody funk.
On those ordinary days I’m nothing more than a lump in the sheets.
I make myself anxious thinking about the work I’m not working on that day.
I take long hot showers, but don’t actually get dressed in between.
I enjoy many quick naps in rapid succession.
I watch Step Up 2: The Streets on my laptop in bed.
I half-lie to my friends texting, ‘I ate a bad fruit salad and my stomach is howling, SO SORRY CAN’T COME TONIGHT’ and feel bad, until they reply with something sweet and I feel okay again.
I spend some time envying our dog and how she doesn’t have a care in the world.
Then I wake up at 2am after another long nap and wonder what time it is and notice that I’m feeling better. Ordinary day over!
Read Lisa Currie's routine
Nikita Margarita on her guilt-free hangover routine…
I tried my darnedest not to get to hangover point these days, but it does happen and sometimes I am a pathetic wreck on a Sunday. There are two amazing cures that always help. Unfortunately they are on opposite sides of Sydney so I have to choose, but weather is usually the deciding factor. Choice A is to get to a beach as quickly as possible, bring a device full of podcasts and after a plunge in the ocean cover myself completely in anything that will prevent me from getting a tan and doze off listening to Freakonomics or Guys We Fucked.
Path B is Lebanese food, and the best is in Lakemba. There is El-Manara, which is amazing, but I love Jasmine's the best. Plenty of chips and felafel, pickles, tabouli and endless plates of toum (the kickass garlic dip) and I can just about feel myself becoming pleasant again. A bonus is that now no one will come near me with my rank garlic breath so it's a win-win.
Both roads lead to the lounge and a new release iTunes movie or if I'm really lucky and the stars align it's a new episode of RuPaul's drag race and suddenly my dull day turned out awesome.
I don't get too weighed down with guilt about not getting work done due to hangover etc – I work at my biz just about every waking moment (when I'm not at my part time job) so I figure the odd hour lost to recovery time is the least I can give myself!
Honor Eastly on tricks for how to treat dull days...
Previously I used to exclusively inhabit two types of time; work time, and time when I should be working. I recognised this way more recently than I'd like to admit and it has resulted, for quite some time, in a complete inability to relax. This I realised was completely unsustainable, but more immediately, it was also miserable.
But I now have a bunch of strategies that I use on these days, but the tricks are always changing, and I'm always finding some new approach to navigate myself and my propensity for procrastination.
1. The two-column to-do list
One such method I've started using is to write a to-do list (on paper, digital ones always lead to distraction) with two columns: one column with things I'm excited about doing and one column with things I are important but I'm prone to avoid. I then mark anything that absolutely must happen, or alternatively, is causing me too much anxiety. I then alternate between doing something from either column, so I'm not just pushing through difficult tasks all day, but I'm not avoiding them completely.
2. Make guidelines for your projects
The other thing I do when I'm feeling tired / anxious / less than excited about my projects is I separate tasks up into allotments based on time. So I might put down "Work on questions for new podcast for 1 hour" instead of "Finalise questions for new podcast". I find I struggle a lot to start things – mostly because I'm anxious – so I use a lot of tactics to give my projects some edges. I find so many projects that I'm working on are blurry and vague, with no real deadlines or specific ways of approaching them, so I liked to just give them arbitrary guidelines when I'm having a tough day – hell any day really.
I read a lot on off days. I found I've used this as a replacement for my phone, which I am prone to being glued to when I feel hungover or unproductive or anxious about a task. I also have an internal well for documentaries that seems to never fill. I think the feeling of learning I find relaxing, because even if I'm not creating, at least I am consuming something that expands my awareness or perspective.
4. Get outside
I know that this is said again and again, but I still constantly forget how helpful this is. It also reminds me that my life isn't all about working – there are other things to enjoy, like bees and trees and that overweight cat down the street that looks too wild to be domestic.
At the end of the day you don't get to take any of the work you do with you, and I'm finding more and more as I get older that there's no point if you're hating every minute of it, it's just not worth it. No career is worth your entire happiness, no matter how prestigious or ego-boosting it may be.
Abdul Abdullah on making the most of dull days…
One of the fantastic things about being an artist is that dull days are few and far between. I have frustrating days when everything seems to go wrong, and I have exciting days where everything goes right, so perhaps a typical dull day would be a healthy mix of both.
The way my schedule, studio and creative approach is structured allows me to maintain productivity when my creative flow is being hindered. Usually I take the time to complete menial, light tasks that are necessary, but maybe a bit boring. This could mean cleaning my apartment, car or studio, doing larger supply runs at supermarkets, hardware stores, online and art supply stores, or catching up on research by reading or watching YouTube.
These days are also great opportunities to visit exhibitions. A great thing about now living in Sydney is that it is impossible to go every exhibition opening, so there are heaps to catch up on during the week and over the weekend.
If I really find myself with time on my hands I’ll watch a movie at home or go to the cinema with a friend. I try and make time every week to catch up with friends, but when I am really busy this is relegated to phone calls. When I visit home in Perth I take long relaxing days with old friends, but I wouldn’t really call those days dull. I guess the most dull days are when I have timed deliveries of supplies wrong and am left to wait a day. I find myself disappearing down YouTube rabbit holes very quickly, but I figure it’s all research to one degree or another. I really like watching old boxing documentaries.
Read Abdul Abdullah's routine
Esther Olsson on 'dumpster feelings' and her dull day routine
Self-doubt is constant in my day-to-day practice, should I make art? Do people like the work I make? Why do I do this? Should I just quit? All of these questions end simply with – I just do it because it’s unnatural for me to do something else, when I create work everything just makes sense, images come alive and dance around my studio, I fill with joy and ecstasy, I’m in my ultimate dream world!
But what do I on days when I have doubt?
Firstly, it’s a mindset – I have come to the conclusion if you approach the day as shit, that’s how it will. But if you go in guns blazing feeling like a boss and you shoot any sign of crap to the ground, that day will be the best.
7:00: I wake up and make the mistake of looking at social media – I find this to be the worst thing to do when you know you don’t have much work on the go.
You see everyone killing it and naturally you compare yourself to people and wonder why you haven’t been creating as much work as them? Or why didn’t you travel as much? Being apart of a modern society where sharing everything that is perfect in your life can be disheartening to the viewers from the other end, we all do it, but never shear the negatives – creating this unrealistic view of each other’s lives.
8:00: I eat breakfast and have coffee. When I’m feeling unmotivated I often spend this time trying to click myself back into motivation and a work hard ethic.
The next best move is to go for a small run or a swim. If I go for a run it will be quite soon after my breakfast but if I go to the pool I like to tick a few things of my list before I go so that I can relax and enjoy the silence and calming motion of moving through water.
12:00: I’m currently working on a solo show HOOPS at Magic Johnson so I have been painting quite a lot – but I definitely had one or two dull days in the process of making this show. This can be extremely frustrating because I have given myself a strict timeline. During a rut, I often have to get out of the studio – I can become so stuck in my work that I find I haven’t left the house in quite a long time. So I’ll call a friend or walk down to the coffee shop, and when I get back I take it slow, put on some music and write a list of things I want to achieve this week, then I'll draw lots and lots of sketches.
21.00: I have a bad habit of working through the night. The silence of the night is my favourite time to think and create – there are no distractions from social media, no emails, no texts and no cars on the road, it makes it extremely easy to think and process my thoughts. A long night will usually go until 4am.
Stanislava Pinchuk (MISO) on mundane,
The worst days are never the days where nothing is working in the studio, because at least I'm working. And it's so healthy to make something terrible once in a while and bin it. So those days, I think you have to be grateful for, as long as they don't come too many in a row.
And they're definitely not the hangover days, because those are actually the best. A hangover means that I built up enough studio tension the night before, saw my friends, had a dance and fell deep asleep. It means I ate some eggs at the deli in the morning, and when I got to the studio again, everything is gentle and hazy, I'll put on a good record... and nothing is as big of a problem as it was the night before. In fact, everything looks fine.
But the worst days are the ones where you run mundane errands non-stop, in strange loops across the city. Bank queue, client call, meeting, post office, art store, a delayed courier, to the framer, a late meeting, back to the post office, gallery call, drop film for developing, another art supply stop. A phone battery that dies twice-over from calls, a dozen texts every time you look down, from too big email attachments and blasting Holy Fuck while you run between it all pretending that you're in a video game. Counting down the U.S going to sleep and getting ahead on Europe emails in time for their morning. Legs that feel like lead, four coffees and you forget to eat. And at 5pm you're not even sure what you got done. It's nothing to complain about, really – but give me hazy, hangover deli coffee and eggs in the sun any day.
Read Stanislava Pinchuk's routine
Brodie Lancaster on obligatory dull days...
I used to make a lot of apologies for dull days – I would sit down and try to write and get something productive done, but my mind was so exhausted. I felt really guilty about not being productive. It would take me complaining to a friend about not getting any work done and them reminding me I can't do good work if I’m not looking after myself, to remember that I really do need full days off sometimes.
I’ve just started getting into gardening, so on those days I like looking after my herbs and making sure they are okay. Or I like going to the movies – that is a nice way to shut off for a little while. I basically just consume things when I am having a day off – I eat a lot of food, watch movies, watch tv shows, try to get some reading done, watch the food network, maybe cook something – I like baking.
Read Brodie Lancaster's routine
Jeffrey Phillips on the slippery slope...
While sometimes it is entirely justified, sleeping in to an ungodly hour is the quickest way to dull city for me. It’s especially galling if I had gone to sleep planning to wake up early and be gloriously productive.
8.00-11.00am is my creative and productive sweet spot. There may be others but this is THE one. If I’m still lounging bed after 9, it becomes difficult to marshall the motivation to catch up. Which blows out breakfasting and other morning duties to a slothful noon, at least.
Another factor that greatly contributes to a dull day is not leaving the house. If I haven’t gone outside to run an errand, visit the studio or a friend or have a ride, I consider it to be a dull day. Thankfully in all the time I’ve lived at my current abode, despite a few close calls I’ve never stayed home for a full 24 hours. I’m quite proud of this.
Lastly not completing or at least attempting what I set out to do, can also really irk me. I’m all for doing nothing, but only if I expressly set out to do nothing. If all my great (or small) plans do not come to fruition, I consider that day a dull one, and I set my alarm for an audacious 6am start the next day to compensate.
Read Jeffrey Phillip's routine
We needn’t beat ourselves up about time spent being unproductive – dull days happen to everyone, another day unfolds, and we can go creating. You can learn to embrace them and make a dull day better, and realise you’re pretty extraordinary despite them.
Yet while we all have dull days, it’s important to distinguish between a creative slump and feelings of depression, anxiety, or harmful thoughts. Mental illness can present differently in people, but some signs that you may be experiencing depression can include social isolation, loss of interest in work or other activities, poor hygiene, and emotional instability.
Know that some days you might feel okay, but other times may not. It is important to seek help. Reach out to a friend, colleague or talk to your GP or visit Lifeline for support.