When you study the working habits of some of the world’s most creative people, you’ll quickly see how different they are. Which fits most into your working style?
When I’m consulting big corporations on how to enhance the baseline creativity of their staff, one of the first things which programme managers ask me is:
“How can we structure our workflow to match what successful creative people do?”
And my answer to this has evolved over time. When I first started my research, I wanted to find out if there was an ideal creative process to get the most creative productivity out of everyone. But what I’ve found instead is that while you can get great improvements to creativity by helping teams tweak their work process and creative environment, the one thing which really cannot be homogenised and must be kept individual is their creative process.
This is backed up by a wonderful piece of research by Mason Currey in his book Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, and turned into this amazing infographic by RJ Andrews at Info we Trust.
Using a clock face, you can see how several eminent creative people structured their day, using a clock face to show what work they did between waking up and going to bed on a standard day, colour coded by the type of activity. Note the dark green, representing the time they were producing their creative work.
I’d strongly recommend checking out the original article at Info we Trust for more information on the source material.
So what can we learn about creative routines?
Perhaps the most obvious thing to note immediately is that there is no specific pattern that creative people follow. Some have scheduled their work predominantly for the morning hours, whereas others are night owls who prefer to work in the afternoons and evenings. This is because every person’s internal circadian rhythms are different.
Not only that, but the amount of creative work produced per day is also varied. You can compare some creatives here who apparently were only productive for roughly 2 hours per day (Mann, Darwin, Mozart, Milton, Tchaikovsky), to some who worked for 6-7 hours per day (Freud, Balzac, Auden, Beethoven). So the lesson isn’t how long you need to spend being creative, it is about finding the creative process that enables you to get the most out of the time when you are working. I also found it interesting that the creatives who worked the most, or the longest stretches continuously, often had the help of stimulants (Beethoven & Balzac: Coffee / Caffeine, Auden: Benzedrine, Freud: Cocaine). Use of stimulants appears to be especially prevalent in writers, perhaps because of the sheer amount of time it takes to produce and refine a written story, which is a very convergent type of creativity requiring a high degree of focus. Stimulants can help this, but at the expense of producing divergent ideas. Maybe that’s also why you always see writers in coffeehouses “working on their book” (while having Facebook open).
Similarly, a number of the creative people outlined here have something in common: they split up their work into multiple chunks, often socialising, spending extended times eating, reading or exercising in between. Importantly, they physically leave their workspace, which is vital for keeping up creative productivity. This fits in with academic research which suggests most people have an underlying ‘ultradian rhythm’ which enables them to concentrate for 90 minutes, followed by needing a break for 20 minutes.
The lessons you can take from this are:
- Accept the fact that you cannot produce creative work for a full 8 hour workday
- Mix up your activities throughout the day
- Get away from your work physically several times a day, especially to eat and meet people
- Find a way to determine when you’re actually your most productive creatively (not the number of hours worked)
- Fit the rest of your day’s schedule around that time
What do you do to keep yourself creatively productive? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow me and share the article.
Personally, I think I’m most like Darwin, where I have a creative burst early on, then I get other work done, and then throughout the day other ideas come to me which I work on later.
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