Daily Rituals by Mason Currey is definitely a book worth reading.
There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration, that there is some strike or bolt or bubbling up of creative mojo from who knows where. But I hope my work makes it clear that waiting for inspiration is a terrible, terrible plan – Mason Currey
This isn’t about me, but… I was always pretty productive as a rapper – I worked hard. That’s not a brag or arrogance, it’s just a fact. It’s not even something I can claim as being of my own making – I watched my Mum and Dad’s work ethic, then some combination of observations and genetics made me approach ‘the work’ of music the same way they approached theirs. I never had a routine though – I just made music; most days; usually after work.
Since I read Daily Rituals, my productivity has increased threefold. Having a regular routine is kind of central to my life, and this book was kind of central to my routine. That’s why I thought it was worth sharing.
The book stems from Currey’s blog and describes the daily routines of 161 inspirational morning people, night owls, painters, poets, musicians, and mathematicians. From Andy Warhol to Jane Austen, Charles Darwin to Tchaikovsky, they include award-winning journalists still writing today, and ground-breaking economists who died hundreds of years ago. It describes how some of the greatest minds of the last 400 years managed and used their time to do meaningful work. The details on the rituals are taken from letters, interviews, and quotes from friends/family. Each chapter is a summary of the artist’s routine and creative life. Most are one to two pages long. All the people featured made the time to get the work done but there is infinite variation in how they structured that time to do so.
Mason doesn’t give advice on routines or claim to know the best way to produce work. He just writes about people who have proven their habit or routine, whatever it was, works – based on the fact that they have been productive and produced good, creative things. He also details his own routine he put in place to write the book:
Nearly every weekday morning for a year and a half, I got up at 5:30, brushed my teeth, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to write about how some of the greatest minds of the past four hundred years approached this exact same task — that is, how they made the time each day to do their best work, how they organized their schedules in order to be creative and productive – Mason Currey
There are some common themes that come out of the pages:
- Mornings are a great way to find quiet time for fresh energy that hasn’t already been drained by the day.
- Exercise, take walks or do handstands. Even though it’s ‘time away from the desk’ getting your blood pumping and giving yourself space to solve problems or think through ideas will ultimately help your productivity.
- You can work and make great art too. Lots of the creators did their work before or after their ‘day job’. My friend Derek Sivers talks about this over here.
- Coffee is your friend. Take that with a bean of caffeine since depending on the time, amphetamines, alcohol or sleeping pills are described as some great friends too.
There are some similarities between the rituals – the most obvious one (and the theme of the book), is that they have a routine. Any routine. They have a habit; they stick to it – and they get the stuff done.
In far the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration. – Mason Currey
But this doesn’t only apply to creative work – it’s not complicated; if your endeavor takes time and you don’t have all of that time available to you right now, building a routine to accrue that time over a longer period is how you get it done. It might take some discipline at the start, but then the habit takes over. There’s all sorts of science and reading about that side of things.
Along with the mundane of the early morning wake-ups, there are plenty of strange practices like Benjamin Franklin’s daily ‘air bath’:
“I rise early every morning and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatsoever, half an hour, or an hour, either reading or writing.” – Benjamin Franklin
Beethoven was a serious dude. He rose at dawn, counted out exactly 60 coffee beans, then sat at his desk with a hot mug and worked until 2 o’clock. He also did some seriously strange things like pouring jugs of water all over his hands and clothes, then walking up and down the hallway humming loudly. But he made a lot of music which hung around a while after he was gone, so, yeah.
Trollope, who wrote 47 novels and 16 other books, said: “I would be at my table every morning before 5.30am, I allowed myself no mercy…. by beginning at that hour I could complete my literary work before it was time to dress for breakfast.”
“My hair is always done by 7. Then I compose from 7-9.” – Mozart
Marcel Proust downed opium and croissants for breakfast, every day.
Reading about those routines and seeing how their practitioners made the work happen is an inspiring reminder that you can have the best idea, the best intentions and the best plans to do, or make, or be – but unless you carve out time in your life to work on that idea, it will only ever be that. Most of us don’t have the luxury of locking ourselves away for a month or two to work – a routine lets you chip away at that idea and persuade it to live. This book is a great reminder that there is no magic potion for making time. We all have the same amount, you just have to use it with intention.
Oh yeah, why did I write this? Good question. I punctuate and edit these summaries for you, but I write them for me. I take notes when I read books that I think are noteworthy, it’s the easiest way for me to remember the good stuff after I’ve closed the book. If I’ve gone through the hassle of formatting and proof-reading those notes, then posting them here, it’s because the book has had enough of an impact on my life to justify the time in recommending it to you.
I’m always keen to hear what you think so let me know in the comments below.