As creatives, how do we structure our time in order to be our most inventive selves?
We often mistake talent for some type of divine gift given to a rare few, but behind that genius is often something a lot less glamorous: a defined schedule. It also takes work — a lot of work.
In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey compiled stories about how many of our greatest artists spent their time. Gustave Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
But what exactly do the daily routines of these legendary artists look like? Take for example Willem de Kooning’s schedule as outlined in de Kooning: An American Master, by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan:
Typically, the couple rose late in the morning. Breakfast consisted mostly of very strong coffee, cut with the milk they kept in winter on a window ledge [...] Then the day's routine began with de Kooning moving to his end of the studio and Elaine to hers.
What is so insightful about de Kooning’s schedule is just how unvaried it is.
There is a consistency that appears throughout many of the compiled narratives in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Routine is used to fuel creativity. These great artists are able to find comfort, exploration, fluidity, and inventiveness from their schedules.
Check out how these legendary creatives divided their time:
Want to develop a better work routine? Discover how some of the world's greatest minds organized their days. Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).
How do we create better work habits? By trying to follow a few guiding principles:
The craft of practice is just as important to an artist as their own chosen craft.
We must become good at practice itself to become good at painting, or ceramics, or whatever else we choose. While the 10,000-hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell — based on research by Psychologist Dr. Ericsson — has more or less been debunked, it’s still a good measure to understand just how long it takes to become a master in your chosen field.
Think in terms of sprints
Almost as important as how often you practice, however, is HOW you practice. Deliberate practice requires focus. Keeping practice time limited to a certain timeframe allows you to intensely focus on what you are developing.
For instance, 90 minutes of pure concentration is better than four hours of mindless or distracted practice.
Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project believes this method makes companies more productive by allowing employees to actually achieve more by segmenting their mental energy into smaller chunks.
Commit even when it isn’t going well
These words from Samuel Beckett have become the guiding words in some of the leading tech companies in Silicon Valley, but it also can be applied to the work of an artist.
Take your failures and learn from them. Failing means you are working. It means you are taking risks and trying something new. The people who fail the most, eventually catch on to something.
Give yourself room to make mistakes, even if you are an expert in your field. Perhaps, if you are considered a master in your disciple, give yourself permission to make mistakes — it means you are trying something new.
Stick to a schedule
Many studies have found that, as humans, we have a limited amount of “cognitive bandwidth.” A
By finding a schedule that works for us, we eliminate overwhelming ourselves with choices about where and when to do things. The Guardian shares that psychologist William James believed habits allow us to "free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action."
As artists, why would we want to waste our creative energy on scheduling tasks?
Consider your schedule from a problem-solving angle. Where are you spending the most time? Are you making the progress you want? What can you cut out and where can you make improvements?