Daily Routines is a series by Balance the Grind, profiling successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and business executives to explore their routines, habits and rituals.
Scott Adams, best known for creating the satirical office comic strip Dilbert, has been an immensely prolific artist over the past 30 years — his works have been published in 2,000 newspapers worldwide in 65 countries and 25 languages. He has also produced a series of books and an animated television series based on the strip.
A bulk of Adams’ work output starts and ends in the morning hours. Being an early riser, Adams wakes up at 5am, or even earlier on some days, although getting up early to work is nothing new to him.
Years ago, I engineered my routine to concentrate my creative energy into a few hours in the morning.Dilbert creator has found a brilliant way to trick himself into creativity | Business Insider
During the early days, when Adams was still working at telecommunications company Pacific Bell as a budget analyst (which is also where he got his inspiration for Dilbert), he was getting up at 4am to draw his cartoons before getting for work at 7am. A few years after he got his first break, when United Media published Dilbert in 30 newspapers, he was finally able to leave his day job and work on Dilbert full-time.
After waking up, Adams first port of call is his coffee and a protein bar, “I give myself this ‘treat’ knowing I can be trained like any other animal,” Adams wrote in Business Insider. “I want to train myself to enjoy waking up and being productive.”
Before settling down to work, Adams will reads news, usually Business Insider, and check social media — a process he calls flooding the mind. “There’s a process where once you clear your mind, you have to flood it,” he explained to Tim Ferriss. “So, I’m looking at the news, I’m looking at stuff I haven’t seen. I’m not looking at yesterday’s problem for the fifth time; I’m looking at a new problem, I’m thinking of a new idea. So, I’m flooding in all the new stuff.”
Adams approaches his work the same way someone like Jack Dorsey or Barack Obama approaches work — eliminating decision fatigue and setting routines on autopilot to free up their mind for creativity and productivity.
I wait for the ideas to arrive at their leisure, like a hunter in a duck blind. And in order for the trap to work, I exercise tight control over my physical environment. The first 20 minutes of my day are exactly the same, step for step, every day, including weekends and holidays. I even eat and drink the same things — coffee and a protein bar — as soon as I wake up.DILBERT CREATOR HAS FOUND A BRILLIANT WAY TO TRICK HIMSELF INTO CREATIVITY | BUSINESS INSIDER
When he’s in his workflow, the hours go by quickly. “Time passes differently when you are in the creative mindset. The first four hours of my day pass as though minutes. I mean that literally; I have only a vague sense of time passing at all.” By 10am, he will usually have created two Dilbert comic strips, shared some ideas on Twitter, produced a Dilbert movie scene and worked on a new idea for his startup Calendar Tree.
By late morning, lunchtime, Adams is effectively done with his creative work and he’ll head off to the gym, “my barely functioning brain is ideally suited for lifting heavy objects and putting them right back where I found them.”
On the topic of his early wake up calls and the dangers of not getting enough sleep, Adams wrote, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead, which might be soon; science tells us that averaging four hours of sleep per night is unhealthy. I have been under-sleeping for decades, and I just keep getting healthier. But don’t take medical advice from cartoonists.”
In an interview on What Got You There with Sean DeLaney, Adams explained how he prevented burnout and stayed creatively fresh during the 30 years of working on Dilbert:
So in a thousand different ways, I just continually chip away at anything that’s inefficient, I just work on that until it’s efficient. So now I can do my primary job and one maybe two hours a day, and I’m done with that, and then that frees up time to work on other projects such as writing books.#164 Scott Adams – The Dilbert Comic Creator | What Got You There With Sean DeLaney
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