Entrepreneurs are some of the most creative thinkers around: many have built their businesses on a great idea, a stroke of inspiration. How you find that inspiration will depend on you. Everyone has their tricks, and almost no one would say it involves sitting at a desk, staring at a screen. As writer Oliver Burkeman points out in this story for The Guardian, the traditional nine-to-five routine is ill-suited to most desk-based jobs (like writing) that require mental focus.
Burkeman decided to find out if what worked for some of history’s most noted creatives could work for him. Using Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration And Get To Work, he road tested habits like, “sit naked by an open window” (what Benjamin Franklin called an “air bath”) or “have a martini with lunch” (VS Pritchett). The martini just got Burkeman drunk, but he says he found a number of daily habits that work well.
Here are 4 habits that worked for the likes of Le Corbusier and Flaubert:
1. Be a morning person. Get up early and use the time to gather your thoughts. As Hemingway wrote, “There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” The crucial trick is to start getting up at the same time daily, but to go to bed only when you’re truly tired, advises Burkeman. “You might sacrifice a day or two to exhaustion,” he concedes, “but you’ll adjust to your new schedule more rapidly.”
2. Take lots of walks. Most people already know that a walk helps clear the head. But Currey was surprised, in researching his book, by how many famous creatives swore by a daily constitutional. “It’s long been observed that doing almost anything other than sitting at a desk can be the best route to novel insights,” writes Burkeman. “These days, there’s surely an additional factor at play: when you’re on a walk, you’re physically removed from many of the sources of distractiontelevisions, computer screensthat might otherwise interfere with deep thought.”
3. Stick to a schedule. You don’t have to work 9-5; but be consistent about some things. “There’s not much in common, ritual-wise, between Gustave Flaubertwho woke at 10 am daily and then hammered on his ceiling to summon his mother to come and sit on his bed for a chatand Le Corbusier, up at 6 am for his 45 minutes of daily calisthenics. But they each did what they did with iron regularity,” writes Burkeman. He borrows an explanation for why strict routine works so well for creative types from American philosopher and psychologist William James. James argued that only by rendering many aspects of daily life automatic and habitual, could we “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”
4. Learn to work anywhere. “One of the most dangerous procrastination-enabling beliefs is the idea that you must find exactly the right environment before you can get down to work,” writes Burkeman. He quotes American composer Morton Feldman, who confessed: “For years, I said if only I could find a comfortable chair, I would rival Mozart.”
That last piece of advice should be couched with this advice: don’t work everywhere. Learn to take a break, and not just a 20-minute walk, and you’ll be more productive in the long run.
What’s your version of the lunchtime martini? Tell us you daily ritual. Leave a comment below.