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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 July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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