Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

I am currently about halfway through Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, and I am finding it incredibly interesting. It is a compilation of several dozen routines of famous artists, musicians, and other creative people. I am really enjoying reading the details of the different artists, and I am learning a lot. Currey writes the following in the introduction:

The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But 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 resource: time (the most limited resource of all) 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. This was one of William Jame’s favorite subjects. He thought you wanted to put part of your life on autopilot; by forming good habits, he said, we can “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”

Currey hits the nail on the head so to speak. Routines are important because they enable us to manage our limited resources. Self-control and self-discipline are like muscles: they fatigue with use. Routines allow us to minimize thinking about each little decision and preserve our energy for the big decisions. “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,” wrote W. H. Auden. This is why President Obama sticks mostly to a grey or blue suit. He has bigger decisions to worry about. “My wife makes fun of how routinized I’ve become,” President Obama says. Taking it one step further, Cal Newport suggests we should plan out each minute of our day, noting “the best knowledge workers view their time like the best investors view their capital, as a resource to wield for maximum returns.” This includes planning out open-ended activities and time for relaxation. As we noted in a post before, Tim Ferriss writes “alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest, and mental endurance all wax and wane. Plan accordingly.”

Daily Rituals focuses a bit more on artists and creative work; however, routines are just as important for other goals as well. When I was studying for the CFP® examination, I had a specific routine for my study plan. In addition, I wrote out a specific routine for the day of the exam so I could focus my energy on the examination questions. However, as Shane Parrish noted, “if you’re looking for some insight into what makes an ideal daily routine, you’re out of luck. One big insight to the book is that there is no one way to do things.” While there are a few general principles that always apply, each individual has their own preferences, and one’s routine will most likely evolve over time. Overall, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey is an entertaining read and an interesting starting point to explore more routine ideas.