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5 Productivity Tips You Can Learn From Great Minds Like Picasso and Mozart

5 Productivity Tips You Can Learn From Great Minds Like Picasso and Mozart

For countless centuries (and especially since the rise of industrialism), our definition of productivity has been tethered to strict conceptions of the daily routine. Many bosses, for example, still believe the employee that is contributing the most to the team is the one who comes in at 7 a.m. and leaves at 9 p.m. At the very least, most of us feel like we’re somehow slacking if we’re not at our desks from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But as is shown in this cool interactive productivity chart (and below), which is based on Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, most of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists haven’t had schedules even remotely close to a 9 to 5.


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While they do have very regular patterns, great artists pay far more attention to the ebb and flow of their creative energy, and ensure their daily lives are enriched with a variety of activities related to self-care or mental stimulation. The life for our great cultural influences is about controlling their work schedules and then making the most of their own time. Here are five quick tips to help you follow in their path.

1. Set Your Own Routine, Then Stick to It

Take one look at that productivity chart, and it’s obvious that each of these great minds had their own distinct routines. Balzac, for instance, saved his creative work for when most people were sleeping (1 a.m. to 8 a.m.), napped for a couple of hours, then picked his creative work back up, and finally relaxed with friends and dinner before sleeping for six hours.

Flannery O’Connor, on the other hand, woke at 5 a.m. to attend church, did her creative work between 9 a.m. and noon, then spent the rest of her time painting, receiving guests, taking care of her birds, and practicing her other hobbies. These two routines are entirely distinct; whereas Balzac spent most of his waking life working, Flannery O’Connor spent only the morning working, then focused on other activities, which surely enriched both her creative work and her life as a whole.

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Which is to say, your routine is whatever you want it to be. However, you do need to be sure to set one and stick to it, or else you’ll wind up wasting mental energy making excuses, drifting from thing to thing, and spending more time figuring out where and how you’re going to work rather than actually doing it. A routine helps you simply get out of bed in the morning and go.

2. Get Up With the Sun

Clearly, there are some thinkers on the chart that do better in the evening rather than the morning, and if that’s you, definitely stick to your night owl ways. However, many thinkers do their best work when they rise early, because there is immediacy and momentum to it. Your brain has just spent the night sorting through neural connections, strengthening some and pruning others, and it also has yet to pile up with new stresses. In this way, the morning is the clearest your head will ever be. What’s more, if you get up super early, no one else will be about and you’ll have plenty of peace and quiet. Night owls can get this same feeling by starting work once everyone has gone to bed.

3. Pump It Up

Okay, maybe you don’t have to go Arnold Schwarzenegger levels of fitness, but getting some exercise can be extremely helpful to creativity. Many artists and thinkers do well with a casual walk, as it allows their minds to focus in a slightly different way and opens them up to unexpected interactions with the world. Letting your mind drift will help it reset, and it may even give you much needed perspective on the task at hand.

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4. Keep Your Day Job

Kafka famously kept his incredibly boring administrative job in Prague, and William Carlos Williams often wrote in breaks between seeing patients in his pediatrician practice. It turns out, for most people, having the structure of a day job can actually be stimulating, as it forces you to organize your life and prioritize goals in a way being “just” an artist can’t. In fact, many people theorize this is why so many artists drift into alcoholism. What’s more, a day job keeps you acquainted with the daily struggles of life, providing you with characters, emotions, and stories. Dull as it may be, it may be, the mundane aspects of life can actually be a great source for inspiration.

5. Learn to Work From Anywhere

Many young artists are romantic about where they work, but most of the greats just took whatever they could get. Sure, there are many famous examples of wacky offices, but art happens wherever the artist is — especially when that artist is an adult with many responsibilities. To get things done, you need to learn to work in any environment — especially if you find yourself most creatively stimulated when on the road. Our digital devices make that easier than ever now, so don’t let your workspace be an excuse.

As the great thinkers and artists know, talent is important, but what separates potential greatness from actual greatness is hard work and determination. To unleash your inner genius, you’ve got to sit down and do like the greats do. Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Héctor García via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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