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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 March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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