↳ In reply to

www.theguardian.com’s post

Six Daily Routines From Historical Creatives Edited Down To Five

on (ttk.me b/4SY1) using BBEdit

The Guardian article Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds lists six key rules that emerge from analyzing the rituals of historical creatives:

  1. Be a morning person
  2. Don't give up the day job
  3. Take lots of walks
  4. Stick to a schedule
  5. Practise strategic substance abuse
  6. Learn to work anywhere

Items 1, 3, 4, 6 I can strongly agree with from personal experience. Items 2 and 5 I find somewhat and quite faulty, respectively.

Day jobs may harm creativity

Item 2, Don't give up the day job, is too coarse. The article justifies it with two points, first that time constraints are a forcing function. Their theory: when you have job which leaves you little free time of your own, it forces you to prioritize and spend that time on being creative. Limited time focuses the mind - but what if you have no mind left to focus?

While (time and other) constraints provide focus, focusing on just constraints ignores larger contexts. In this case, many (e.g. desk) jobs, may actually harm your ability to be creative in off hours. Many white-collar jobs consume creative time and energy, or worse exhaust your executive control with 2-3 hour daily commutes (even wifi busses: recycled stale air, noisy and bumpy). Such jobs/commutes drain and dull your creativity, leaving you tired and uninspired for that little free time of your own.

This is both from personal experience, and watching formerly publicly prolific creative colleagues disappear into Google, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, even Twitter, and (nearly) stop independently & openly creating & contributing. Typically they even stop blogging.

Exception: those of you at those companies actively openly contributing to open standards and open source, keep it up, and inspire others at your company to do so as well. All you other creatives with 1hr+ driving or wifi bus commutes: bank a buffer (see next point), then quit your job and start (or get back to) creating openly, e.g. on your own domain.

Day jobs can provide security, do provide discipline

Item 2 makes a point about financial security, which can help creativity by removing a source of distraction. Unsurprisingly, as employment, resources, property are all part of Maslow's hierarchy of needs safety level, foundational for self-actualization's creativity.

So yes, a job can help your creativity by providing sufficient resources to meet daily living needs. Save a six-month living costs buffer to allow for job change too.

But this point is about income, not routine, thus is a rationalization at best. It does not belong in a summary list of daily routines.

Lastly item 2 points out:

… the self-discipline required to show up for a job seeps back into the processes of art.


Discipline is a skill that can be learned like any other. Having an external motivator (a job, weekly project meetings, weekly teleconferences) helps build a habit. Keeping that external motivator helps reinforce it.

A job should provide a minimum necessary structure, like a skeleton. If you work remotely (from home), even going into an office or co-working space one day a week (the same day of the week), is helpful.

Even if all you do is use work motivation to thoughtfully sit down every day at a certain time (say 10:00) regardless of where you are, and answer work emails from the past 24 hours, it helps make discipline a habit more than an effort. A habit that you can then apply to your own creative work, like writing a blog post every morning. I've seen colleagues do this successfully - I'm still working on it myself (daily blogging).

Substance abuse is unnecessary

Item 5 says to Practise strategic substance abuse which is incredibly irresponsible advice and nothing more than glorification of a Hollywood cliché.

It's not clear that any specific "substance" is needed nor helpful (aside from documentation around caffeine), and certainly "abuse" is by definition suboptimal. If we attempt to extract and abstract some positive value from item 5's examples, we could interpret them not as substantiating substances, nor abuse, but rather, perhaps just a regular ingestion ritual.

Is this about ingesting one particular same thing each day? Or doing so at the same time of day? Or both? Would eating the same small breakfast snack suffice? Maybe fellow creatives can try experimenting with answers to these questions and report back.

I'm dropping their rule 5 because it seems unnecessary and potentially damaging, even if only by setting bad examples. Anecdotally, many (most?) creatives I know have no such substance abuse "need" in order to produce their creative output. Many drink tea or coffee at a regular hour, which are borderline "substances" at best, and certainly don't abuse them. I myself do have a post-morning-run-get-coffee ritual which is more of a positive feedback reinforcement for the run than anything else.

Those were my only two outright objections to what the article suggested or recommended. On the remaining points I took minor exceptions at best.

Morning: know when your body needs more sleep

I don't often get sick but when I do I'm really bad at it. Even colds make me annoyed, impatient, and miserable. So over the years I've tried to pay particular attention to any/all precursor indications that I am or am getting sick. Everytime I learn to recognize a precursor, I try to pay attention to precursors to that, etc., knowing that the earlier I can recognize the precursors to a cold, the better chance I have of fighting it off. This has led me to one conclusion.

There's a very specific kind of tired that I feel before getting sniffles, or a scratchy throat, and then coming down with a runny nose, sore throat, cold, etc. in the hours/days that follow. It's like my body is fighting something (perhaps my immune system is literally fighting something), and everything seems slower, heavier, more resistant. Usually this particular feeling of tiredness manifests in the morning, but sometimes during the day. Either way, the best response is the same: sleep.

Whenever I wake up at my normalish hour but feel oddly tired, I let myself sleep in a bit more. 30 minutes. 60. Even 90. I try to gauge how bad the feeling is and (re)set my alarm accordingly. The result: upon reawaking I feel incredibly refreshed. The marginal benefit of the extra sleep feels double the hours of the night before, at a minimal marginal cost.

So what are the consequences of this? Simple:

  1. Be a morning person, but prioritize your body. Daily early morning routines have helped me in many ways (motivation, mood, fitness, creativity etc.) yet listening to your body is more important, purely from a time/productivity efficiency perspective (avoiding sickness downtime), than a militant waking hour.
  2. No morning meetings. Seriously, no meetings before noon. Exception: teleconference meetings you can do from bed. And even then, opt-out of being on the phone if possible and just monitor things on IRC or collaborative Etherpad notes and speak-up only if you really have something unique and critical to offer. Exception to that: if your active continuous participation will really have a critical impact, then judge carefully for yourself the tradeoff of that impact vs. your own health.

    The key point here: Reject obligations that cause you to sacrifice your health to avoid feelings of institutional guilt.

    Or reframed as a positive: keep your mornings clear of scheduled events as much as possible.

Most meetings don't matter, most participation in meetings has very little if any impact. Meetings don't actually get anything done; creating and doing things gets things done. Listening to meetings and using information gleaned to tune your actions is sometimes helpful. Sometimes brainstorming and taking notes from a meeting may help in that way.

Adapt your work and routine to anywhere

Item 6 in the article is Learn to work anywhere. Agreed and this point deserves broadening: learn to not only work anywhere, but to adapt your daily routine to anywhere, to maintain it even when you travel.

Figure out what you need to pack to do your daily routines. Always have walkable shoes when you travel. If you're a runner, always wear or pack running shoes. If you do yoga, memorize a routine, or rip your favorite yoga DVDs to your laptop. Pack shorts and/or sweatpants so you can run or do yoga in a hotel rool/gym or even when crashing in a guest room.

Edited list of five daily routines

With that expansion of item 6, here's my edited list of daily practices for creatives:

  1. Be a morning person, but put health first
  2. Keep day job and/or work for structure & discipline
  3. Take lots of walks, especially at task/project transitions
  4. Create and practice an explicit routine
  5. Learn to work and practice your routine from anywhere

Here's an even shorter, easier to memorize, <140 character version:


  1. Morning person, health 1st
  2. Work discipline
  3. Lots of walks
  4. Explicit routine
  5. Work anywhere, be portable

Fellow creatives, I encourage you to document and blog your morning routines, and what you've found helpful (or not) about having and keeping a daily routine.


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