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April 27, 2015 /Events /

Inside the Daily Habits of Ash Thorp

A chromed-out 3D human head bobs in what appears to be a deep red liquid on the big screen at annual design and tech festival FITC Toronto. Designer, director, and illustrator Ash Thorp is showing off his latest creative obsession—highly-designed 3D heads. Known for his work on major feature films such as Ender’s Game and Total Recall, Thorp shared insights about his path to a creative career.


One of the things Ash went into detail about were his daily habits, more specifically his six-step “task master” process, which we’ll cover in this post. Don’t want to miss a thing? You can watch his full presentation here.

AshThorp_2_GleiThe task master
Each night Thorp will write up a list of what he needs to accomplish the next day. He always writes this list on paper because it’s tangible and in his words, “becomes a reality.” As a child of the ’80s he feels there is a level of nostalgic productivity in this.

Once his list is written, he moves on to prioritizing it. Based on insights he obtained from the book Eat That Frog!, Thorp uses an A–D class system in setting his goals. Things that make his A-list include must-do tasks like client work and taking his daughter to school. B-list is often comprised of personal projects of importance and speaking opportunities. C-list is made up of stuff that needs to get done eventually, and D-list is comprised of tasks that he doesn’t really need to do or things he can delegate.

He then puts all of these tasks into his calendar and set alarms for each “chapter” of his day.

“We’re creative people, so when I get in the mode of creating, time flies,” said Thorp. “When you’re creating, time doesn’t even exist.”

Despite some hostile feelings towards his phone for the alarms which often pull him away from fun work, Thorp feels this process doubles his daily efficiency. It gives him something tangible that he can visualize. Once his plan for the next day is in place, he can sleep on it and wake-up ready to rock.

“The richest person and poorest person spiritually and monetarily share the same currency—time,” said Thorp. Look at time as being precious. Avoid interruptions whenever possible.

One thing he will do is limit his time on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to just ten to fifteen minutes a day. To do this, he’ll put his phone on silent and close his browser if he’s not using it.

Thorp relies heavily on goal setting. This goes back to his emphasis on the importance of having a vision—something tangible to work towards. He sets one week, one month, three month, six month, and one year goals.

His one year goal is always really abstract, whereas his one week goal is related to daily tasks. Every Sunday he’ll write out his weekly goal, ensuring that his tasks for the week align to this. It’s not all process though; Thorp is a strong believer in treating yourself for accomplishing a goal. Rewarding yourself for a job well done is a great motivational strategy to keep you on point and striving to reach those goals.

AshThorp_3_Lasseter The end date
Everything must come to an end. Setting end dates and getting things done is important to accomplishing goals and being professional. “Don’t be known as just a starter, you have to finish stuff,” said Thorp. This can be a challenge because working in creative fields you always feel like you can do stuff better, and each day comes with renewed inspiration. Setting a deadline and knowing when to let go will help you complete a project and move on to the next thing.

Play time!
Make personal time every day. A couple hours reserved for stuff you enjoy is important for your personal growth, spiritually, and creatively. This doesn’t always have to be in the evening; sometimes a creative kick-start to your morning can be just what you need. It’s all about priorities!

AshThorp_4_HeadShotRest and recover
While Thorp doesn’t claim to be any good at this, getting sleep is important. It’s hard to make proper decisions when you’re not getting enough sleep. It affects your mood, professionalism and, ultimately, your work.

One thing Thorp reiterated throughout his talk is that his task master process works well for him. Daily routines aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, but given his success and ability to manage many things at once, this process (or key elements of it) might just be worth a try. Also, like most things worth doing, it doesn’t come without a bit of sacrifice and hard work.

Have a different approach to staying on top of many things at once? Let us know in the comments.

Find @Ashthorp (occasionally) on Twitter.

Watch Thorp’s FITC Toronto 2015—Steps on a Creative Career Path presentation: