Ever wondered what a day in the life of Nicola Tesla, Benjamin Franklin and Beethoven looks like? This book is about the daily rituals and routines of creatives. A sneak peek into how grand creative visions translate to small incremental steps, and how one’s working habits influence the work itself, and vice versa.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Franklin had a daily ‘air bath’. He believed that cold water was too much of a shock to the system. ‘I have found it much more agreeable to my constitution to bathe in another element, I mean cold air. With this view I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not the least painful, but on the contrary, agreeable.’
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Rose at dawn, Beethoven’s breakfast was coffee, which he prepared with great care – he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Beethoven also had the most ridiculous bathing habits but I won’t spill the beans here.
George Simenon (1903-1939)
Most people work every day and enjoy sex periodically. Simenon had sex every day and every few months indulged in a frenzied orgy of work.
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Commenting on his eight years working as a bank clerk in London, ‘I am sojourning among the termites,’ Eliot wrote. If ever there’s an analogy that sums up my three years in banking, this takes the cake.
Nicola Tesla (1856-1943)
As a young apprentice in Thomas Edison’s New York office, Tesla regularly worked from 10:30am until 5:00am the following morning (‘I’ve had many hardworking assistants, but you take the cake’, Edison told him). Later, after Tesla had started his own company, Tesla arrived at his office at noon. Immediately, his secretary would draw the blinds; Tesla worked best in the dark and would raise the blinds again only in the event of a lightning storm, which he liked to watch flashing above the cityscape from his black mohair sofa.
Long before you finish the book, you can’t help but notice the pattern that emerges. For those looking to get work done, here are the key takeaways:
- Rise early, between 5-8am. Why? Because you do your best work when your head is clear and before the rest of the world wakes up. For late risers, a select few also worked from midnight to dawn.
- Do work in uninterrupted 3-5 hour blocks. This means turning your phone off and having only tea or coffee breaks in between. The key word is uninterrupted.
- A quiet and solitary environment was preferred by most, while there were also those who thrived working in an noisy environment.
- Take a walk, a long one, preferably surrounded by nature, and keep a pen and paper with you.
- Take a nap, a no-brainer if you want to get any real work done post lunch.
- Dedicate time to friends and family, because that’s what life is for.
A modern stoic, 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 at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
There was the presence only of essentials. It was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work.
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)
It was my practice to be at my table every morning at 5:30am and it was also my practice to allow myself no mercy.
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
He shut himself up in his room for days – weeping, walking, breaking his pens, repeating and altering a bar a hundred times, writing and effacing it as many times, and recommencing the next day with a minute and desperate perseverance. He spent six weeks on a single page to write it at last as he had noted it down at the very first.
Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
I am sustained only by a kind of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates. I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly.
James Boswell (1740-1795)
Life has much uneasiness, that is certain. Always remember that, and it will never surprise you.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
At the core of one’s character were maxims – a handful of essential rules for living that, once formulated, should be followed for the rest of one’s life
William James (1842-1910)
The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.
Franz Kafka (1833-1924)
Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle manoeuvres.
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
It almost seems as though a writer’s works, like the water in an artesian wall, mount to a height which is in proportion to the depth to which suffering has penetrated his heart.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
While I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
One can be very fertile without having to work too much. Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening. This is my only rule.
Glenn Gould (1932-1982)
The two things, life style and work, have become one. Now if that’s eccentricity, then I’m eccentric.
Philip Roth (b. 1933)
Coal mining is hard work. [Writing] is a nightmare. I work, I’m on call. I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
I can only work in the early hours of the day, when I am feeling revived and strengthened by sleep and not yet harassed by the absurd trivialities of everyday life.
George Sand (1804-1876)
Inspiration can pass through the soul just as easily in the midst of an orgy as in the silence of the woods.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Darwin does three hours of focused work per day, first for 90 minutes beginning at 8:00am after he had taken a short walk and had a solitary breakfast. Then at 10:30 until noon or a quarter after. He considered this the end of his workday, and would often remark in a satisfied voice, ‘Ive done a good day’s work.’ Then Darwin took his main walk for the day, accompanied by his beloved fox terrier, Polly.
Willa Cather (1873-1947)
I don’t hold myself to long hours; if I did, I wouldn’t gain by it. The only reason I write is because it interests me more than any other activity I’ve ever found. I get more entertainment from it than any I could buy, except the privilege of hearing a few great musicians or singers.
Maria Kalman (b. 1949)
The New York illustrator, artist, and designer wakes up early, about 6:00am, makes the bed and reads the obituaries.
Twyla Tharp (b. 1941)
I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30am. I walk out and hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym ; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.