Creative Leadership

Would You Give 5 Hours a Day to Achieve Greatness?

One of my favorite books from last year was Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.  In the book he details the daily schedule of 161 artists, writers painters, thinkers, inventors, and all-around creative people. It features their quirks (Ben Franklin liked to be naked, Maya Angelou can only write in motels, and more). It’s a fascinating read, and will definitely impact your own daily creative schedule. While there’s a wealth of information in the book (I highly recommend it), here’s two critically important things I learned:

1. Seriously creative people don’t work at random.  They’re slaves to routine. The vast majority of artists, writers, and other creatives featured in the book had a set schedule EVERY DAY and they kept to it. Some didn’t even deviate from the schedule on weekends or holidays. The routine was so important to their creative process, they rarely let anything interrupt.

2. These creative people don’t just do work, they do “deep work.”  By contrast, “shallow work” is answering emails, doing interviews, making calls, or attending meetings. But these creatives immerse themselves in what Cal Newport calls “cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.” Newport studied these daily schedules and estimated the average number of “deep work” hours in a day to be 5.25. That means each of these artists and inventors did a deep dive into their work – five plus hours each day with no distractions, no disruptions – all focus and concentration.

How about you?  Are you working on a schedule? Do you have a routine? I’m reminded of the great quote by artist Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work.”  Second question: Are you taking a deep dive? Are you setting up your work space and your schedule so you can work without interruptions or distractions for at least five hours per day?

These two keys are incredibly important if you’re serious about doing significant creative work.  The question is: Would you give five hours a day to achieve greatness?

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13 Comments

  1. I’ve given more than 5 hours of creative work per day.. but in terms of diving deep, it’s a whole new dimension of discipline. Could not agree more, it’s always never too late for the hungry. Great content Phil as usual!

    1. Thanks Robert. Focus is a huge issue for me. Research indicates that when we’re interrupted, it takes 28-40 minutes to get back to the same level of focus. It doesn’t take many of those distractions to ruin the entire day…

  2. Intentionality: noun – the fact of being deliberate or purposive. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the key to getting anything done, be it 5 hrs, 1 hr or 10 hrs.

  3. Making changes that seem crazy to others is important too. Just shifted my sleep schedule to allow for more focus time later at night (I’m most alive at night) since I’m doing the day job thing right now while stretching the creative side.

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