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Book Summary Notes

Daily Rituals

“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. By writing about the admittedly mundane details of my subjects’ daily lives—when they slept and ate and worked and worried—I hoped to provide a novel angle on their personalities and careers, to sketch the entertaining, small-bore portraits of the artist as a creature of habit. ‘Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are,’ the French Gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote. I say, tell me what time you eat, and whether you take a nap afterward."

"My underlying concerns in this book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time, to ‘work smarter, not harder,’ as my dad is always telling me? More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?"

"I don’t pretend to answer these question in the following pages—probably some of them can’t be answered, or can be resolved only individually, in shaky personal compromises—but I have tried to provide examples of how a variety of brilliant and successful people have confronted many of the same challenges. I wanted to show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work itself, and vice versa.”

How do great artists work?

Mason researched the daily routines of 161 Artists ranging from

  • W.H Auden
  • Charles Darwin
  • Carl Jung
  • Stephen King
  • Ben Franklin
  • Mozart

Inside the book he's exploring what it takes to create something meaningful while still making a living..

Something I'm sure all of us would love to know about!

Good thing is that the 161 people he researched have created some of the most meaningful works in history while devoting a great portion of their life too it..

One thing that stuck out most in this is the wide variety of 'rituals or routines' that each artist follows..

Some of them are workaholics..

Some of them just work to get it finished..

Some of them are schedule and ritualized

Some of them aren't at all!

Routines

“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 resources: 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 James’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.’ Ironically, James himself was a chronic procrastinator and could never stick to a regular schedule.”

Free your mind to advance to really interesting fields of action!

We've talked about habits quite a lot on this channel..

  • Routines are simply the stacking of habits!
  • They are something we create to allow us to go on autopilot for a little while..

By allowing part of our lives to go on autopilot it seems as though we're able to 'free up' our minds to think about more advance things..

  • Think of it like this..  
  • Are you thinking about what you're going to have for breakfast this morning?
  • Or are you thinking about your next book, article or video?

This is something I've learned the hard way (I expect a lot of the people featured in the book did as well)

  • But if I don't have a routine that I strictly adhere too the days tend to get away from me with little things clogging up my thinking..
  • So now I decide on my schedule for the week.. 
  • Then the night before I already know what every minute of my day is going to look like tomorrow!
  • Allowing me enough freedom to do the work that really needs to be done..  

Auden

“‘Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,’ Auden wrote in 1958. If that’s true, then Auden himself was one of the most ambitious men of his generation."

"The poet was obsessively punctual and lived by an exacting timetable throughout his life. ‘He checks his watch over and over again,’ a guest of Auden’s once noted. ‘Eating, drinking, writing, shopping, crossword puzzles, even the mailman’s arrival—all are timed to the minute and with accompanying routines.’" 

"Auden believed that a life of such military precision was essential to his creativity, a way of taming the muse to his own schedule. ‘A modern stoic,’ he observed, ‘knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.’”

Do you have ambition?

Auden says here that 'Routine in an intelligent man is a sign of ambition' I'm going to assume you're intelligent..

  • But do you have ambition?
  • How are your routines?

Sometimes I think there is a disconnect between someone's ambition and their routines..

  • A lot of my coaching clients started our relationship without routines..
  • They have all these ideas that they want to accomplish!
  • But they seem to be going nowhere and that's often why they come to me..

Quite simply I help them setup routines for themselves..

  • They've got the intelligence and ambition covered!
  • But having a routine for working is what will actually get things accomplished..
  • Setting up these routines is very individual..  Everyone has a different routine!

 

Jung

“In 1922, [Carl] Jung bought a parcel of land near the small village of Bollingen, Switzerland, and began construction on a simple two-story stone house along the shore of the upper basin of lake Zurich."

"Over the next dozen years he modified and expanded the Bollingen Tower, as it became known, adding a pair of smaller, auxiliary towers and a walled-in courtyard with a large outdoor fire pit. Even with these additions, it remained a primitive dwelling. No floorboards or carpets covered the uneven stone floor. There was no electricity and no telephone. Heat came from chopped wood, cooking was done on an oil stove, and the only artificial light came from oil lamps. Water had to be brought up from the lake and boiled (eventually, a hand pump was installed). ‘If a man of the sixteenth century were to move into the house, only the kerosene lamps and the matches would be new to him,’ Jung wrote; ‘otherwise, he would know his way about without difficulty.’"

"Throughout the 1930s, Jung used Bollingen Tower as a retreat from city life, where he led a workaholic’s existence, seeing patients for eight or nine hours a day and delivering frequent lectures and seminars. As a result, nearly all Jung’s writing was done on holidays. (And although he had many patients who relied on him, Jung was not shy about taking time off; ‘I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool,’ he said.)"

A word on relaxing..

Jung said that somebody who's tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool..

  • How many of us would fall into the category of fool?
  • I know at many times in my life I would..

That's why I and Jung both believe that it's important to have a routine around rest..

  • Now I don't think you need to build a hut outside of lake Zurich in order to accomplish that..  But too each their own!
  • Instead I think it's simply asking yourself..  How can I ritualize and routinize my rest?

Actually I think as Dale Carnegie says it's important to rest before you need it..

  • So how can you schedule rest into your day to day, week to week and month to month?
  • This is one part of the routine I think most people miss and it's also one of the reasons so many people have a hard time sticking to a routine..

They simply create a routine that is impossible to follow over the long haul!  Without thinking about their NEED for rest..

Here is how I schedule in rest..

  • First during my work day I don't focus on one thing for too long..  60 minutes per task MAX if possible!
  • Second during my work day I work in 20 minute deep work blocks with a 5 minute break..  
  • Third I make sure my weekends are not only work free but also go 100% tech free on Sundays
  • Fourth I try to schedule at least a week of vacation once a quarter..

Surprisingly this is when I get my best thinking done!  I guess me and Jung are similar that way.. 

Gould

“‘I work all the time,’ the evolutionary biologist and writer [Stephen Jay Gould] told an interviewer in 1991."

"I work every day. I work weekends. I work nights.... [S]ome people looking at that from the outside might use that modern term ‘workaholic,’ or might see this as obsessive or destructive."

"But it’s not work to me, it’s just what I do, that’s my life. I also spend a lot of time with my family, and I sing, and go to ball games, and you can find me in my season seat at Fenway Park as often as—well, I don’t mean I have a one-dimensional life. But I basically do work all the time. I don’t watch television. But it’s not work, it’s not work, it’s my life. It’s what I do. It’s what I like to do.”

What is work really?

People who aren't creatives often can't comprehend how someone can enjoy work..

  • Most people who have to go to regular jobs see work as a chore..  Something to get finished!
  • Which..  When you don't love your work it probably is!

That's the secret to true productivity..  Love what you're doing!

  • Easier said than done right?  Not so fast..
  • Something one of my mentors shared with me is the principle of 'Prepare for what's next' and it's a great way to start loving what you do day to day..  Even if it sucks!

Here is how you do it..

Whenever you have to do something boring, tedious or otherwise not enjoyable..  Find a way that doing this now can prepare you for what's coming next!

Whatever you next is..  Something creative, meaningful and important..  

Even the most boring thing you do can help you through some of the tough times of being a creative!  

Find how you can learn from what you're doing and how you can connect it to 'what's coming next' for you..

Quick story of a coaching client..

  • Karen was struggling at her day job..  She came to me to find a way to make a living as a creative!
  • Which I was more than happy to help with!  I've been an entrepreneur for over 10 years..  There are a tonne of ways to make a living doing something meaningful..
  • But Karen had student debt she needed to pay off..  So quitting her job and living off savings wasn't an option!
  • The day job was killing her..  She was so bored all the time!

So we decided to do two things:

First was to get a good idea of what she might want to create business wise!

Second we decided that every time she felt negatively about something that she was doing at work..  She would resolve to find how it was contributing to 'what was coming next' for her..  Making her days much much easier to bear!

Find Your Own

“Although he was a creature of habit, Malamud was wary of placing too much importance on his particular work rituals."

"He told an interviewer: There’s no one way—there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make the time—not steal it—and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

Maybe you came to this book expecting to have a distillation of all the routines you'll need to become great like these artists..

Sorry!  That's not how it works..

Routines are important!  But they are also specific to the person..

Find you own routine..  Create the habits!  Stack them together..  And get to work!