Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey explores the daily work routine of 161 masters in their creative fields. We know what they did, but we want to know how they did it. The book delivers. It’s a great read.
The book provides the facts, stories, and anecdotes surrounding these masterminds and how they went about their daily lives. But in doing so, it does provide some useful ideas. So, what can we learn from the best?
The Power of Walks
This one relates to the modern world in a very profound way. We already know that too many of us spend too much of our day sitting. Quite frankly, it’s killing us. The modern workplace generally includes a desk, chair, and computer. We sit. We work. And eight hours later, we go home.
Many of the artists in the book advocated for daily walks. Long, daily walks. Very long, daily walks. A startling number of the artists profiled explicitly mention walks and the merits thereof. And none more so than Charles Dickens, who would often walk in excess of 20 miles per day. It was part of his routine. It was a necessity for him. “I think I must be the descendant, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp,” he once wrote. His walks served as a break from indoors, exercise, and most importantly, provided the details and observations about London that went into his novels. Many other artists - especially the writers - mentioned their devotion and need for daily walks in correspondence.
“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” ~Henry David Thoreau
It’s even more important today. Walks should be part of everyone’s daily routine. Morning, afternoon, or evening...it doesn’t matter. What does matter is getting outside. Using our legs. Observing the world. Getting and being inspired. And not thinking directly about work.
Remove ALL Distractions
As evidenced by the book, geniuses tend to be VERY particular about their workspace. It had to be a certain way, and it had to be free from distraction. And that means something different to everyone.
Stephen King believes that a writing space should have no television, no internet, no games, and no telephone. Others worked with the curtains and door firmly closed, locked to the outside world. Still others had “secret” offices known only to them, where they could disappear and not be found.
We live in a world where distraction is everywhere. And people can reach us no matter where we are. Instant communication - email, mobile phones, text messages - are a blessing and a curse. The internet, for all the good it provides, can also suck hours and hours of our time on nothing more than videos of surfing dogs. Facebook. Twitter. It’s hard to resist. If you can’t ignore the urge, use a program like Cold Turkey to temporarily block out addictive social media and game sites.
These geniuses almost universally recognized the importance of this. So should you.
Quit While You’re Ahead (And Not Completely Gutted)
Stop working when you feel like you could continue. When everything is clicking, and the way forward is clear and unobstructed.
Ernest Hemingway often stopped writing for the day MID-SENTENCE.
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day...you will never be stuck. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it, you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” ~Ernest Hemingway
The same applies to whatever work you do. If you see the entire report, for example, clearly in your mind, stop while you’re feeling that way. Let it sit, and your mind will continue to work on it. Too often we race to get everything done as soon as it occurs to us, working ourselves to exhaustion and until we’re out of ideas. Then what? If it’s not complete, we sit and stare at it, trying to force new ideas through sheer determination of will.
“I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool.” ~Carl Jung
So, stop while you’re ahead. Leave some gas in the tank. Something to grow and evolve overnight or over the weekend. Leave yourself a starting point for the next day.
Most of us need this. Whether you’re an artist, banker, teacher, or physicist doesn’t matter. We generally need some kind of accountability to get the best out of us. A demanding boss. A deadline of some sort. Friends or coworkers to push us forward somehow.
The writers in “Daily Rituals” often set word or time goals for themselves each day. Composers placed minimum bar or measure counts on themselves to signify a day's work.
We don’t always have the luxury (although it doesn’t feel that way at the time) of outside accountability from a boss. We tend to perform better when we do, so it’s crucial that you create some for yourself when there is no external pressure. The artists understood this. Create a self-imposed deadline for that report. Tell your boss it will be on his desk at a specific date and time. Ask your friends to ridicule you mercilessly if you don’t complete a given task by a given date. Announce your plans loudly and to anyone that will listen (social media is great for this one). Quantify when you can...three new clients by next week, five pages per day for the annual report you have to edit, a hundred lines of code, and so forth. Set it, and stick to it.
“Daily Rituals” offers excellent and engaging insight into the working minds of 161 fascinating people, all at the pinnacle of their individual careers. It provides a clear roadmap for the rest of us, and offers great tips for anyone - regardless of profession - to have a more productive day. To be more genius-like, which is a lofty and admirable goal.
Photo by Reannon Muth
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