In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey sets out to demonstrate the importance of small daily activities which can add up together to fulfill one’s vision.
I wanted to show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work itself and vice versa.
Positive habits which are a result of a good routine can allow one to perform tasks to the best of their abilities. Rather than having to force yourself, trying to make up for wasted time, or hurrying up, playing catch up, a routine allows designated time for each task where one can chip away at their craft, slowly improving, getting closer to their goals.
One’s daily routine is also a choice or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.
The book is filled with many lessons. Each individual mentioned in the book has their own routine and their own reason for needing a routine. However, an underlying theme that is present is that many view their routine as a necessary part of their work. Meaning that the routine aids their craft. It allows them to focus, stay disciplined and complete projects.
From the many lessons, the following are a handful that I found useful. Later on, I will do a follow-up post of other lessons.
A lesson from Mozart: Find the pocket of time that works for you and stick to it, without making any excuses. This lesson is drawn from the fact that Mozart was a busy man. He was wanted by many people, his time limited and hence, he would wake up early and compose and then compose for a little while before going to bed. Making time for his craft, rather than excuses.
A lesson from Voltaire: Have a pocket of concentrated work, followed by a break, then more concentrated work, break and so on. Simply stating, Voltaire divided his day into small portions which allowed him to focus on his tasks and then get quick relief in the form of meeting someone, eating snacks, drinking coffee before returning to his work for another period of effort. Such a routine is manageable.
A lesson from Thomas Mann: First, get the most essential work done. For Mann, he would write from nine to noon. In this period of time, no one was allowed to call him, disturb him or contact him. Having finished the most important work by noon, one can then continue the momentum of positive action and flow throughout the rest of the day.
A lesson from Haruki Marukami: Do not deviate from your established routine. When working on a novel, Marukami’s day started at 4 am and ended at 9 pm. The day was filled with writing, which he did first thing in the morning, running, swimming and spending time with his wife. Essentially repeating the same day over and over, one comes to build their focus and endurance and most importantly, the work gets done.
A lesson from Samuel Johnson: You’re not the only one who falls of the path and gives into laziness. As Johnson writes:
“My reigning sin, to which perhaps many others are appendant, is waste of time, and general sluggishness,” he wrote in his diary, and he told Boswell that “idleness is a disease which must be combated.” Yet, he added, he was temperamentally ill-equipped for the battle: “I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together.”
It may be that you find it hard to stick to a routine. Chances are you’re not the only one. Artists throughout time have failed, recalibrated, adjusted their routines, shifted to working in the morning, or in the evening, and then failed again but that does not matter. Never accepting the failure is more important, for even if you are unable to stick with a particular routine, you can still get back on the path easier once you have fallen off.
Routines then allow one to see what the path looks like and what you should be doing, how you should be acting, rather than being blind, trying to navigate through this world.
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