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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 May 16, 2019

The Daily Rituals of 7 Successful CEOs

The Daily Rituals of 7 Successful CEOs

One of my favorite success quotes ever comes from one of the original and most successful ‘CEOs’ of his era: Aristotle. Here’s what he said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

This advice is just as sound today as it was when Aristotle first expressed it, way back when. I’m reminded of this at least once a week, when I interview an inspiring author, leader, or successful CEO on my show. I ask my guests a series of questions about what has contributed to their success and their ability to build something meaningful.

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You want to know what nearly all of them say? Almost every time, they respond by telling me that their success is the result of simple habits  enacted day after day.

These quotes from seven successful CEOs demonstrate the daily rituals that have contributed to their success:

1. Promote what you love.

“It’s so much better to promote what you love than to bash what you hate.” – Jessica Alba, CEO of The Honest Company

2. Develop a feedback loop.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” – Elon Musk, CEO of TESLA Motors

3. Create things that are better, not just “different.”

“Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better—to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our world anew, as fresh and strange as it was to the ancients who saw it first, can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future.” – Peter Thiel, CEO of Palantir and best-selling author of Zero To One.

4. Meditate.

“Meditate. Breathe consciously. Listen. Pay attention. Treasure every moment. Make the connection.” – Oprah Winfrey, CEO of OWN Network

5. Read every day.

“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”-Warren Buffet, CEO of investment firm Berkshire-Hathaway

6. Block time for email.

“Set aside a 20- to 30-minute chunk of time two or three times a day for email. Do not check continually through the day.” – Doug Camplejohn, CEO of predictive lead marketing company FlipTop.

7. Make your customers happy.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com

Develop the right rituals. Become a successful CEO.

If the majority of these daily habits are new to you, avoid making the crucial mistake of adopting all of these habits at once. Research on habit-formation indicates that lasting habits are formed one at a time.

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For example, let’s say you’re excited about developing the following daily habits:

  • daily reading,
  • daily meditation, and
  • updating your to-do list every night

Let’s say that daily reading is the one that excites you the most out of the three habits noted above. It would be wise of you to begin by choosing and scheduling time to read every day, and then sticking to that time until it becomes a habit. Once it feels effortless and automatic, you’ll know that you’ve turned it into a daily habit. Now you’re ready to install the next habit… and the next… Until before you know it, you’ll start looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection of a successful CEO.

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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