When I was a professor, I required all of my students to create a list of studio commandments. I got the idea from the work of Henry Miller, a notable author, who gave himself a list of Commandments for writing. What I thought was interesting about Miller’s Commandments, was that they weren’t for everyone. They were very precisely what he needed to do to be in the studio, what he needed to remember in order to survive.

I could write this post from the point of view of: here’s how I manage my projects and make sure I stay productive, and I will, towards the end. But I’m almost certain that whatever works for me might not work for you. The point of the studio commandment exercise was not for me to instruct the students what they should and should not do in studio (though as any teacher who also has to clean up the space, I made some rules for that as well), I believed in the process because I wanted them to think critically about what they needed.

Work on something creative when you feel your productivity wane.

I participated as well, and notably, every semester my commandments shifted a bit.

Here are mine, as of today:

  1. Study for anywhere from five to twenty minutes before you start working.
  2. Start a folder for each new project, in it make subfolders for src, inspiration, resources, and a text file with ideas, that can be added to over time but nothing should be deleted.
  3. Always have plenty of water on hand, otherwise I’ll get up and be distracted from work every time.
  4. Break my work up into measurable pieces that are actionable. Use projects I like doing and books I like reading as rewards for pieces completed.
  5. Always stop when you know what happens next.
  6. Keep several to do lists. Don’t worry about repetition. Writing it more than once helps you remember because you don’t always check them.
  7. Don’t agree to more than 4 things at once.
  8. Work on something creative when you feel your productivity wane.
  9. Allow yourself to talk to other people on twitter, slack, etc without guilt. Too much guilt is bad for you.
  10. When things don’t work linearly, get methodical and then think laterally.
  11. Impose artificial bounds on creative work.

I encourage you to sit for a minute and explore your studio commandments. Of course, I use the word “studio” liberally, it can mean your workstation, your desk, anywhere that you need to be productive. Don’t worry too much that they be perfect, you can alter them over time. You can also take a few days to observe yourself working before writing them, or write them once and revisit them and edit.


The studio commandments are helpful because they foster self-awareness and give you simple directions for productivity. The act of writing out the commandments is helpful, but the most important aspect is being fully present in observance of yourself.

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