Over the summer I discovered a book entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work written by Mason Currey. It documents the daily life rhythms of “161 inspired, and inspiring, minds—among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians.” Each short chapter focuses on one person’s daily work. Some of the notable people profiled in Daily Rituals include Jane Austen, Mozart, Picasso, Benjamin Franklin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Søren Kierkegaard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many others.
Daily Rituals is a fascinating read to say the least. Having the daily lives of so many creative people described back to back allowed some interesting over-arching themes to emerge. In my observation, most of the people represented in the book had three main things in common. My first observation was the following:
Daily work was generally done in routine and focused blocks of time with distractions kept to a minimum.
These time-blocks were generally in the 2-4 hour range with the shortest example being only 30 minutes per day. Many times, a given days work consisted only of one time-block. Of course there were the obsessive exceptions to this rule but this general rhythm was present more often than not. The rest of the day was spent doing other activities some of which I will unpack in the next few blog posts as I believe they are integral pieces of the overall creative process in their own right.
This practice of time-blocking seems to include a few underlying ideas.
- Create while your energy and interest level is high
- Work until you come to a stopping point – e.g. a self-imposed time limit or work quota
- Taking a break from the creative work helps and informs the creative work
- Don’t be afraid to walk away without a finished product
One example comes from the life of renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The author Mason Currey writes:A friend of Frank Lloyd Wright’s once observed that for as long as she had known him, the architect seemed to spend the day doing everything but actually working on his building designs. He held meetings, took phone calls, answered letters, supervised students—but was rarely seen at the drafting table. The friend wanted to know: When did Wright conceive the ideas and make the sketches for his buildings?
“Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning,” Wright told her. “I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4 and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.”
Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule
On a related note, I was recently reminded of an article written by Paul Graham entitled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. Written in July 2009, this simple 1100 word article has sparked a lot of dialog and rethinking about the way these two important but very different roles should interact. The basic idea behind the article is that the manager’s schedule is generally broken into hourly segments typically changing what you do every hour. In other words, a manager’s schedule is meeting based and meeting driven. The maker’s schedule tends to be based on focused units of at least a half day. You can see where the rub starts to come in. Paul’s company Y Combinator moved their entire infrastructure to this “maker’s schedule.”
The unique challenge of creative ministry
As a creative person, this practice of time-blocking rings true with my experience. Being a creative person that also serves on staff at a local church I know the tension that can exist between daily pastoral ministry and scheduling dedicated time to create, even when we are creating as an extension of God’s call on our lives.
I believe we can also see a similar tension at work in Acts 6:1-4.
6 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Represented here are two important ministry activities. One involves meeting a very practical physical need – the distribution of food to widows. The other involves attending to spiritual needs, giving time to hearing from God and distilling God’s word for the people – aligning our hearts with the very will of God in the process.
As I wrestle with walking out these ideas in my own life, I believe that we need to live in both of these worlds, making sure not to neglect one expression over the other. Both are important.
Creative work as an act of devotion
I think there is a very real connection in this practice of time-blocking our creative work to the spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, and study. When we give our energy toward writing a song, preparing a sermon, or any other creative work, there is an opportunity to turn our efforts into an act of devotion. Giving dedicated time to creative work is important for our own lives before God as well as for the people we serve.
Question – How does this idea of time-blocking fit into your own experience?
Question – What restraints are currently in the way of giving dedicated time to your creative expression?