Genius Journey, the creative leadership development method that I’ve created, invites candidates to go on an imaginary journey where they travel to ten destinations to rediscover their inner creativity. At each destination stop, they learn about one disempowering mindset or action routine that limits their creativity, and they also get introduced to a corresponding empowering mindset that reconnects them to their inner creativity.
At the 10th stop of Genius Journey, you need to stop being busy, busy, busy all the time; instead, start cultivating daily routines that balance focused doing with relaxed being. If you find a harmonious rhythm between focused work and relaxed play, you can more easily get into flow, a state of optimal experience where you perform at your peak and creative sparks fly. But in our hectic and busy times, how to get into a harmonious rhythm between focused doing and relaxed being? Today, let’s find out by studying the daily routines of creative top achievers.
Investigating the daily routines of creative top achievers
In his book Daily Rituals. How Artists Work, Mason Currey shares the daily routines and habits of 161 creative top achievers: Currey studied the schedules of a collection of top achievers from a wide range of creative domains: composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven or Richard Strauss; painters such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh or Joan Miró; philosophers like René Descartes, Søren Kierkegaard, or Jean Paul Sartre, scientists (in the widest sense of the word) such as Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, or Carl Jung; inventors, designers and entrepreneurs such as Le Corbusier, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Nikola Tesla or Benjamin Franklin; and many, many writers such as Mark Twain, Earnest Hemingway, Friedrich Schiller, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
While almost all creative top achievers had their unique daily schedule and peculiar preferences, they surprisingly share many commonalities in the way they approach a typical work day. Like the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who preferred “a certain uniformity in the way of living and in the matters about which I employ my mind,” many creative top achievers are creatures of habit in the way they approached a typical workday. Why do they do it?
Apparently, most creative top achievers noticed at some point in time that maintaining certain work routines and daily habits increases the likelihood of getting into the state of flow and creative kisses by their muse and inner genius. The French novelist Gustave Flaubert put it this way: “Be regular and ordinary in your life, so that you may violent and original in your work.”
Uncovering patterns in the daily routines of creative top achievers
RJ Andrews at Infowetrust.com visualized some of the more detailed schedules presented in Currey’s book in an infographic mapping out the hourly schedules of 16 creative top achievers. Other contributors (such as podio.com) added visual schedules of further creatives. In order to identify patterns in the work schedules and daily routines of creative top achievers, I visualized these data in an aggregated chart that shows six activity areas grouped in three main categories:
- WORK (separated in main creative work; secondary creative work; and drudgery)
- PLAY (separated as time for exercising and leisure (e.g., meals, socializing, and spiritual activities)
Please note that in the chart, the time displayed on the horizontal axis depicts time total hours committed to an activity irrespective of the precise time of the day on a clock, which are shown in infographics of the other sources listed above; moreover, for the main creative work activities, the chart shows a split of the work time into 1-3 creative phases.
Looking at the chart above, I was able to spot the following common threats running through the schedules and daily routines of the featured creative top achievers:
- Counterintuitive to what most laypeople expect of creatives, most creative top achievers stayed true to a precise daily work schedule, believing the routine helps them to get more easily into a creative flow. For example, the British-American writer W. H. Auden explained why he followed a strict daily time schedule: “A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”
- Creative top achievers invested on average 6.5 hours per day in their main creative work activity. Thereby, the span is very wide ranging from two to 13.5 hours. Most writers seem to prefer one long creative phase per day (of 3-7 hours in length), while the featured artists worked in two creative time blocks and some scientists even had a third creative work phase.
- Often, creative top achievers either commit to undergo their main creative work for a fixed number of hours each day (normally anywhere from 3 to 8 hours) or until they hit a certain output target (such as the two thousand words quota that Stephen King commits writing on every day of the year).
- Most creative top achievers get to their main creative activity within 2 hours of rising at the start of their work day. Thereby, roughly seven in ten prefer to complete their main creative daywork in the morning; however, many of the late-rising creatives also began work as one of their first activities of the day in the afternoon or at night.
- Apart from their main creative work, roughly four in ten also invested time in secondary work activities that supported their primary creative work (often in reading that can provide more “dots” to connect to a creative work project).
- Three in ten of the featured artists (and here most prominently Mozart) had to invest time in other day jobs (typically teaching, but in some cases also administrative work) that helped them make ends meet. However, most creative top achievers managed to avoid spending precious time for drudgery.
- Interestingly, two in three creative top achievers regularly exercised (often walking, but also running, swimming, horse-riding or even chopping wood). Those engaging in exercise invested on average 1.5 hours a day for this activity. Why? It seems that exercise not only it helped them to stay productive and to deal with occasional frustrations and blockages, but is also a proven way to get creative inspirations and ideas — and to collect more and fresh dots to connect to one’s creative work. For example, for more than a quarter century, Huraki Murakami has kept up his daily routine to go for an hourly run around noon. Charles Dickens left his desk at 2 p.m. every day for a brisk 3-hour walk through the streets of London or countryside, a strategy intended to “searching for some pictures I wanted to build upon” in his novels.
- The featured creative top achievers also invested 6.5 hours in average for leisure activities including meals, personal grooming, socializing and spiritual practice (once again, the range here varies widely from 1.5 to 12 hours).
- More than nine out of ten creative leaders slept around 7-8 hours per day, highlighting the importance of sleep to reinvigorate their bodies and minds.
What can we learn from the daily routines of creative top achievers?
“We have failed to recognize our great asset: time. A conscientious use of it could make us into something amazing.” In line with the German playwright Friedrich Schiller, please find ten recommendations (that I personally also follow every day whenever possible) on how you may produce more and better creative outputs by harmoniously balancing time for focused work with relaxed play:
- Take your time to develop your unique schedule and daily routines that works for you and allows you to get your creativity flowing. None of the creative top achievers featured above copied the schedule of other people, so neither should you. “Be original. Insist upon yourself”, as Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended.
- Pay attention to your natural energy rhythm. If you’re a lark, consider starting work in the wee hours of a new day. However, as an owl, don’t feel shy in beginning your work day in the afternoon or evening when your energy levels start to come into full swing.
- Emulate the work-play pattern of creative top achievers to ensure a long creatively productive and happy life: Dedicate 8 hours (plus minus 30 minutes) each for work, play and sleep.
- Block at least 3-4 hours of time at the beginning of your work day to focus on your main creative work (e.g., writing). During this time, focus on one creative project and output that you want to produce by the end of that time. The English writer and social critic Charles Dickens noted in this context: “I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”
- If your schedule permits, consider adding a second creative phase of 2-3 hours in the second half of your work day (either for adding more creative outputs, or for editing and improving on the outputs from phase 1).
- Consider adopting a firm routine of either committing a certain number of hours for creative work each day, or committing to achieve a certain creative output target (e.g., hitting a certain word count). Complete any administrative work or drudgery towards the end of the workday (after you have completed your creative work for the day).
- Consider exercising for one hour each day as part of your daily routines to refresh your body and creative mind. Expect to get new creative inspirations and ideas while you sweat it out.
- Apart from exercising, commit quality time for leisure activities (dining, socializing and meeting with friends, meditation, reading, etc.). If creative top achievers can play in average for 6.5 hours, so can you.
- Don’t skimp on your sleep if you want to be healthy, productive and creative in the long run. If you travel a lot or temporarily need to do with less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, experiment with cat naps (just like Thomas Edison or Richard Buckminster Fuller did) or doing mindfulness meditation to compensate for the lost hours of sleep.
- Finally, find your own work-play rhythm. Experiment with different ways to schedule the day to find a rhythm that works for you and helps you to be both creative and productive. Once you’ve noticed that a schedule works and induces creative flow, stick with this trusted routine it like the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami: “I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
This article will be an addition to the third part of my upcoming new book Genius Journey. Developing Authentic Creative Leaders for the Innovation Economy (targeted for publication in 1Q.2018 by Motivational Press).
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2017.