Freelancer or side-hustler, or even regular worker with a regular job, your daily schedule makes all the difference to getting things done.
Perhaps more importantly, the way you structure your day and the rituals that you follow can help you to maintain your mental health (and your professional standards) across the long months and years of a career.
Sure, some of us are free-stylers and improvisers, with creative types in particular being vulnerable to the changing tides of inspiration. But still, good habits ensure that the important stuff gets done, and a surprising number of successful independent creatives run their daily routine as though they were working for a strict boss.
Mason Currey’s new book, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, contains numerous examples of the latter. Currey painstakingly researched the ways that some of our most celebrated women writers and artists have structured their working day.
The pressures on a creative woman’s time have differed greatly from those on men.
Today, the situation may be more even for some, but many still carry the burden of the same expectations. Even if those expectations have been sublimated into an unspoken ‘understanding’ of how a family or business divides its labor, rather than an explicit statement of duties.
But of course, these pressures are also intersectional.
It is curious to look at the schedule of Jane Austen, for whom class and gender expectations meant keeping her creative life a secret, but gave her other advantages. Austen was expected to ‘keep’ a house, but was assisted in doing so by a team of servants and a sister, Cassandra, who was sympathetic to the pressures on Jane’s time.
Jane Austen was first to rise in the household, although given her morning ritual of playing the piano one assumes her mother and sister weren’t too far behind her!
Austen’s main household duty was the breakfast, after which she could sit and write until mid-afternoon. Her writing practice was kept secret from servants and visitors, so when she was interrupted she quickly tidied her manuscripts away and began to sew. (A creaky door operated as an ‘intruder alarm.’)
It’s easy to see how the routine was essential if Austen was to be productive. But she took the time to feed her muse, too: in the evening, the family (and a close friend who lived with them) would read novels to each other. Sometimes Jane tested her new material on her housemates.
Jane considered the mental space that her routine (and her servants) created to be one of the most important enablers of her creative flow. Just as vital as her (often interrupted) free time was the freedom to not have to plan evening meals or think about organizing the things that nobody else thought to organize.
Martha Graham is a more business-oriented professional – and her business is lifestyle.
So it’s interesting that she intentionally ‘clutters’ her schedule with emotional labor to provide relief from the pressures of her working life. She begins her day at 5am, walks her dogs, and checks her greenhouses.
“I feel responsible for these plants,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2013. “It’s like seeing that the children are fed and dressed.”
For Graham, it is both a pleasure and a professional duty to take responsibility for the food when she entertains. But her late evening schedule is something of a social sanctuary.
After a packed daily schedule of meetings and appearances, Graham makes time to watch something light on TV in bed like the rest of us.
The people at BodyLogicMD have taken Mason Currey’s research a step further, and created a new set of data visualizations showing at a glance how famous women schedule their day. Take a look – maybe it’ll inspire a tweak in your own routine!