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Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds

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  • Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds

    Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds
    Benjamin Franklin spent his mornings naked. Patricia Highsmith ate only bacon and eggs. Marcel Proust breakfasted on opium and croissants. The path to greatness is paved with a thousand tiny rituals (and a fair bit of substance abuse) but six key rules emerge

    One morning this summer, I got up at first light I'd left the blinds open the night before then drank a strong cup of coffee, sat near-naked by an open window for an hour, worked all morning, then had a martini with lunch. I took a long afternoon walk, and for the rest of the week experimented with never working for more than three hours at a stretch.
    This was all in an effort to adopt the rituals of some great artists and thinkers: the rising-at-dawn bit came from Ernest Hemingway, who was up at around 5.30am, even if he'd been drinking the night before; the strong coffee was borrowed from Beethoven, who personally counted out the 60 beans his morning cup required. Benjamin Franklin swore by "air baths", which was his term for sitting around naked in the morning, whatever the weather. And the midday cocktail was a favourite of VS Pritchett (among many others). I couldn't try every trick I discovered in a new book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration And Get To Work; oddly, my girlfriend was unwilling to play the role of Freud's wife, who put toothpaste on his toothbrush each day to save him time. Still, I learned a lot. For example: did you know that lunchtime martinis aren't conducive to productivity?

    As a writer working from home, of course, I have an unusual degree of control over my schedule not everyone could run such an experiment. But for anyone who thinks of their work as creative, or who pursues creative projects in their spare time, reading about the habits of the successful, can be addictive. Partly, that's because it's comforting to learn that even Franz Kafka struggled with the demands of his day job, or that Franklin was chronically disorganised. But it's also because of a covert thought that sounds delusionally arrogant if expressed out loud: just maybe, if I took very hot baths like Flaubert, or amphetamines like Auden, I might inch closer to their genius.

    Several weeks later, I'm no longer taking "air baths", while the lunchtime martini didn't last more than a day (I mean, come on). But I'm still rising early and, when time allows, taking long walks. Two big insights have emerged. One is how ill-suited the nine-to-five routine is to most desk-based jobs involving mental focus; it turns out I get far more done when I start earlier, end a little later, and don't even pretend to do brain work for several hours in the middle. The other is the importance of momentum. When I get straight down to something really important early in the morning, before checking email, before interruptions from others, it beneficially alters the feel of the whole day: once interruptions do arise, they're never quite so problematic. Another technique I couldn't manage without comes from the writer and consultant Tony Schwartz: use a timer to work in 90-minute "sprints", interspersed with signficant breaks. (Thanks to this, I'm far better than I used to be at separating work from faffing around, rather than spending half the day flailing around in a mixture of the two.)

    The one true lesson of the book, says its author, Mason Currey, is that "there's no one way to get things done". For every Joyce Carol Oates, industriously plugging away from 8am to 1pm and again from 4pm to 7pm, or Anthony Trollope, timing himself typing 250 words per quarter-hour, there's a Sylvia Plath, unable to stick to a schedule. (Or a Friedrich Schiller, who could only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples.) Still, some patterns do emerge. Here, then, are six lessons from history's most creative minds.
    More.....
    In the realm of spirit, seek clarity; in the material world, seek utility.

    Leibniz

  • #2
    I'm from the "get up early and get $hit done" school; on the weekends, when the rest of my family is sleeping in till 8:00 AM, I like to get up early and get my chores done before everybody starts getting in my way and bothering me.
    "There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not there any more." -Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Stitch View Post
      I'm from the "get up early and get $hit done" school; on the weekends, when the rest of my family is sleeping in till 8:00 AM, I like to get up early and get my chores done before everybody starts getting in my way and bothering me.
      I prefer to get things done after people go to sleep. Mornings are for sleeping. If I have to get up at an hour I should be going to sleep it is only fair that something should die, i.e. I am going fishing or hunting. Last summer I insulated my attic mostly at night when it was cooler. No way in hell I was doing that job naked though.
      Removing a single turd from the cesspool doesn't make any difference.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Stitch View Post
        I'm from the "get up early and get $hit done" school; on the weekends, when the rest of my family is sleeping in till 8:00 AM, I like to get up early and get my chores done before everybody starts getting in my way and bothering me.
        Same here. Even on Sundays, when the house is fast asleep. I get up at 5 or 5:30 am and go for my long jog (about 8 km), as Sunday is the only day I can indulge in a long jog with bothering about hurrying to work. I get back and wake up the gang for morning mass.

        Cheers!...on the rocks!!

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        • #5
          I'm stuck in the middle.

          Wake up early and I feel like shit, a short run of 3 kms helps but still dull.

          Used to be i would snooze as late as i could and wake up feeling great but after the diabetes if i sleep past 8.30 or so i feel even worse and am pretty useless for most of the working morning.

          On balance i can get more work done in the mornings so am slowly changing my habits.
          For Gallifrey! For Victory! For the end of time itself!!

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          • #6
            I have always been a late owl and not a morning person. But lately over the years I have come to realize that it is better for me to wake up early in the morning and get things done. I wake up usually between 7 and 8 and then go do my workout. I have started working out and got myself a personal trainer. So far he's been great. Now I am eating healthier food and eating on a regular schedule. Makes me feel more productive.

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