Daily Rituals — The Tim Ferriss Book Club, Book #2


This post is about the second book in the Tim Ferriss Book Club, which is limited to books that have dramatically impacted my life. The first selection was Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. The second is Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. Enjoy!

I’m endlessly fascinated by routines and rituals.

What do the most successful people do first thing in the morning? Or last thing at night? How do writers, artists, and creatives engineer “inspiration” when it eludes them? Naps? Drugs? Exercise? Weird sexual habits or eating regimens? Other?

The answers can help you.

For my birthday last year, I received a incredible book: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. It was given to me by Josh Waitzkin, the renowned chess champion (best known from Searching for Bobby Fischer) and a master at deconstructing the world’s top performers.

He loved the book, and I fell head over heels in love with it.

It became my daily companion. There were gems everywhere, and I underlined nearly every page. I began to read 1-2 page-long profiles each morning with my pu-erh tea, and this ritual not only shocked me out of a major depressive funk, it also triggered a creative explosion.

I was having fun again… and getting tons done in the process!

Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, agrees: “I just can’t recommend this book [Daily Rituals] enough.”

Daily Rituals details nearly 200 routines of some of the greatest minds of the last four hundred years–famous novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians. Among other things, this book will make you feel better about your own procrastination and odd habits! These A-players were a very peculiar bunch…

This post includes:

  • A full overview of Daily Rituals
  • A sample of Daily Rituals (Introduction)

The brand-new audiobook of Daily Rituals includes exclusive bonus material — introductions for each of the 161 creative minds. This makes each routine easier to place in context and use.

You can download it all here.  

And, just as Josh gifted this book to me, I hope you consider gifting Daily Rituals to your family and friends this holiday season. It could change their lives.

Just click “Give as a Gift” here. You can schedule the audiobook to be emailed to your recipient on 12/25 or whenever you like.

Daily Rituals — Full Overview

Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “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 maneuvers.”

Kafka is one of 161 inspired–and inspiring–minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator as his desk, dreamily fondling his “male configurations”… Jean-Paul Sartre chewed on Corydrane tablets (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin), ingesting ten times the recommended dose each day… Descartes liked to linger in bed, his mind wandering in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where he experienced “every pleasure imaginable.”

Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself that each morning he write three thousand words (250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for thirty-three years during the writing of more than two dozen books… Karl Marx… Woody Allen… Agatha Christie… George Balanchine, who did most of his work while ironing… Leo Tolstoy… Charles Dickens… Pablo Picasso… George Gershwin, who, said his brother Ira, worked for twelve hours a day from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers…

Here also are the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).

Brilliantly compiled and edited, and filled with detail and anecdote, Daily Rituals is irresistible, addictive, and magically inspiring.

Daily Rituals Sample — The Introduction

[TIM: The following words are from author Mason Currey.]

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 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.

In that sense, this is a superficial book. It’s about the circumstances of creative activity, not the product; it deals with manufacturing rather than meaning.

But it’s also, inevitably, personal. (John Cheever thought that you couldn’t even type a business letter without revealing something of your inner self–isn’t that the truth?) My underlying concerns in the 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 questions 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.

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 (covered in this book). As it happens, it was an inspired bout of procrastination that led to the creation of this book.

One Sunday afternoon in July 2007, I was sitting alone in the dusty offices of the small architecture magazine that I worked for, trying to write a story due the next day. But instead of buckling down and getting it over with, I was reading The New York Times online, compulsively tidying my cubicle, making Nespresso shots in the kitchenette, and generally wasting the day. It was a familiar predicament. I’m a classic “morning person,” capable of considerable focus in the early hours but pretty much useless after lunch. That afternoon, to make myself feel better about this often inconvenient predilection (who wants to get up at 5:30 every day?), I started searching the Internet for information about other writers’ working schedules. These were easy to find, and highly entertaining. It occurred to me that someone should collect these anecdotes in one place–hence the Daily Routines blog I launched that very afternoon (my magazine story got written in a last-minute panic the next morning) and, now, this book.

The blog was a casual affair; I merely posted descriptions of people’s routines as I ran across them in biographies, magazine profiles, newspaper obits, and the like. For the book, I’ve pulled together a vastly expanded and better researched collection, while also trying to maintain the brevity and diversity of voices that made the original appealing. As much as possible, I’ve let my subjects speak for themselves, in quotes from letters, diaries, and interviews. In other cases, I have cobbled together a summary of their routines from secondary sources. And when another writer has produced the perfect distillation of his subject’s routine, I have quoted it at length rather than try to recast it myself. I should note here that this book would have been impossible without the research and writing of the hundreds of biographers, journalists, and scholars whose work I drew upon. I have documented all of my sources in the Notes section, which I hope will also serve as a guide to further reading.

Compiling these entries, I kept in mind a passage from a 1941 essay by V. S. Pritchett. Writing about Edward Gibbon, Pritchett takes note of the great English historian’s remarkable industry–even during his military service, Gibbon managed to find the time to continue his scholarly work, toting along Horace on the march and reading up on pagan and Christian theology in his tent. “Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

What aspiring writer or artist has not felt this exact sentiment from time to time? Looking at the achievements of past greats is alternately inspiring and utterly discouraging. But Pritchett is also, of course, wrong.

For every cheerfully industrious Gibbon who worked nonstop and seemed free of the self-doubt and crises of confidence that dog us mere mortals, there is a William James or a Franz Kafka, great minds who wasted time, waited vainly for inspiration to strike, experienced torturous blocks and dry spells, were racked by doubt and insecurity. In reality, most of the people in this book are somewhere in the middle–committed to daily work but never entirely confident of their progress; always wary of the one off day that undoes the streak. All of them made the time to get their work done. But there is infinite variation in how they structured their lives to do so.

This book is about that variation. And I hope that readers will find it encouraging rather than depressing. Writing it, I often thought of a line from a letter Kafka sent to his beloved Felice Bauer in 1912. Frustrated by his cramped living situation and his deadening day job, he complained, “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 maneuvers.” Poor Kafka! But then who among us can expect to live a pleasant, straightforward life? For most of us, much of the time, it is a slog, and Kafka’s subtle maneuvers are not so much a last resort as an ideal.

Here’s to wriggling through.


All 161 Daily Rituals can be downloaded here.

What routines or rituals have you found most helpful in your own personal or professional life? Where did you pick it up? Please let me know in the comments!

Posted on: December 15, 2013.

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99 comments on “Daily Rituals — The Tim Ferriss Book Club, Book #2

  1. For those of you who read down this far, Slate.com had a whole series of posts summarizing the book. The posts are really informative, here is a link:



    My own thoughts on rituals can be found here:


    I think this book would go well with “The First 20 Hours” by Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA.


  2. Tim,

    awesome selection so far! I have both books as print versions already and have read them several times. Highly influential works!

    On that note, I’d give my right arm to having “Hannibal And Me” by Andreas Kluth as an audiobook. It’s one of my personal favorites and really resonates with me. The press it’s gotten over the last 2 years doesn’t do it justice.

    You might wanna give it a glance….


  3. I always love the way you have chose the books you choose, they usually DO something rather than just being a book of pages.

    P.S. I know you are all about stream lining things in so many ways, as a student living in an small space, I was curious as to how much stuff do you actually have in your home compared to free space, do you own a lot of clothing or run with a small few things that you like best and work for most occasions?

    Any responses are cool since I do know Tim is busy. . .
    trying to get ideas to de-clutter the easiest way and most efficient. . .thank you. . .


    • Brian, more than once in my life I’ve had to reduce my life to insanely small spaces. It has been a blessing, and I think you’ll find the same is true once you’re “settled” if you will.

      The first thing you should always ask yourself when looking at what you have and might be able to get rid of, and what you might want, but aren’t sure if you should purchase, is the old truism: “Is this something I absolutely need, or is it something I want?”

      Here are a few tips that worked for me:

      1. Reduce your clothes to what you wear regularly. My bet is you can donate or sell 75%-80% of what you own. Go this route: Garage sale, eBay, Craigslist, Donate.
      2. Buy good socks and shoes, and wear them till they absolutely must be replaced. I buy Wigwam socks, all in black so I can wear them at work and for play. They’re not cheap, but they last forver. Think like Bond. The less decisions you have to make on clothing, the better. You spend less, and own less in the process.
      3. Along the lines of Tip #2, spend money on things that will last, and that can be layered (if clothing), or used as other items in your life (as in table that works as a desk). This is kinda’ the IKEA/small house approach, and it will help you.
      4. Watch Up In The Air” with George Clooney for inspiaration.
      Stop buying books and magazines, sell those you have already, and buy a Kindle. Better yet, only use the library. With Interlibrary loan you can get any book you want without having to buy it!
      5. Use cooking implements that pull double duty. A cast iron pan, for example that is good for stewing, AND frying.

      So, those are a few things. In general if you look toward movements that have to think small to excel (Camping, tiny houses, the less advantaged, people in tight urban spaces, “you” when you had nothing) and you will come up with lots of ideas.

      Lastly, I use Amazon for a lot of my inspiration, jumping around in the recommended products links.

      Good luck. Peace out.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Tim,
    I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of this book. Thanks for the great review! Speaking of a morning ritual, do you find it best to get out of bed immediately in the morning, say, instead of hitting snooze a whole bunch of times? What’s the best way to have energy right away?



    • I don’t know about high energy, but I don’t hit snooze anymore… I get up right away and stumble downstairs and get a protein drink out of the fridge, chug that down, then a cold glass of water and by that time, I’m awake and ready to go. Then I head back upstairs for my morning shower and get on with my day. I used to hit snooze 3-4 times but now find this to be the better way to go.


  5. Rituals and discipline are important in other contexts too. Yes, when i have to write, setting a time limit or output goal is a vital ingredient. Another one to reduce stress and simplify life is my ritual when travelling. I commute in Europe every week, Boring, so the only challenge is to make it as effortless as possible. I don’t rush late to the airport; i am there in time to have a pre-flight coffee, I have my trusty PowerTraveller kit with me if there is delay and I need power. I reserve the same seat. I am front of the queue to board so I am never stuck looking for space or hanging about. Making it effortless is a challenge


  6. Purchased; hope you’ll add more recommendations about life philosophy; business; and productivity; because you really have something to say ..
    Keep Up .. i’m studying everything you produce .. and you the man ..


  7. I just finished listening to it. I think the last one sums it up. It’s up to the individual to determine for themselves what works. I tried paying attention to those that lead a healthy well balanced lifestyle. They were few and far between. Though, I guess you could consider Rockstar my amphetamine.


  8. Tim, thanks for these last few posts. As is common, they’re right on time for me.

    Here are a few writing rituals/tips I can share with you/the group, that might be helpful. Since I write professionally – and for fun – avoiding fitful writing scenarios is always something I’m trying to avoid. It ain’t easy. Here are a few things and suggestions that work for me:

    1. Set a production goal instead of a time-specific goal. This works. This also works for me because I have a variety of productive “times.” Sometimes it’s right away in the morning, sometimes its at 3pm. By setting a production goal, I can always fit in my writing in whatever time window works best.

    2. Protect your writing space. Keep distractions out. This is critical. If you have a door, close it. If you have an office with a window (like I do) face the other direction. ;-) When you avoid the distraction of people walking past you all day long, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you become.

    3. Get comfortable. During the day I work in a sterile office, and I couldn’t figure out why my production was waning. Then I brought my home office experience to work: (plants, slippers, writing in front of a window, legs outstretched (as if in bed) and covered with a blanket. And, BAM, I was back in business. If you can re-create your favorite environment wherever you HAVE to write, you’ll reap the rewards. Do whatever you have to do to get comfortable.

    4. Get some sort of ambient sound going. I use rainycafe.com when I’m writing, or a white noise channel on Spotify. Classical music can work for me for a lot of things, but not when I’m stuck. If the ideas are flowing, it’s great, otherwise, as a musician, I get lost in the song and forget about writing.

    5. Take breaks. For me, I find it’s best to write, then do something fun like screw around on the guitar, or take a walk, anything that makes you HAPPY. Not relaxed, but happy. It’s the old trick of rewarding yourself for accomplishing a goal. Create such rewards throughout the day, for better, more sustained production. If you work in an office, and can swing it, see if you can bring some of those distractions with you — a guitar to work, for example.

    6. Have a snack or beverage handy. This kinda’ keeps my hands moving, and mirrors typing. Moving hands, equals work to me. Sitting still means … well, nothing, so I’ve got to keep moving to write.

    7. Use the writing implement that works best for you. I write on a Mac. At work, they have PCs and giant monitors. I can’t stand them, and can’t get anything done when I use them. So I brought in my Mac, and write on it, and use the PCs for the other things I’ve got to do outside of writing.

    8. Sit by a window. I realize not everyone can do this, but the act of being able to look outside works wonders for me. Plus, getting light during the day means I sleep better at night, and avoid the funk/depressed states creatives often endure. Particularly in the winter.

    9. Turn off the Internet. This is so crazy important, I can’t stress it enough. If you write, you certainly have to research, so what to do when this is the case? This is what I do: I research at the tail end of my day, when I’m not in writing mode, then do my writing, Internet-free, the next day. It works like a charm. It also has the added benefit of allowing the subject material to seep in, so it becomes “my own” when I’ve got to voice it later on. Try it. You might be surprised at how well it works.

    Good luck, all. Hope this helps!



    • Doc, if there was a “like” button, I’d press it a million times. Your suggestions are very helpful. I am trying white noise (why didn’t I think of that?) while working, doing something that makes me happy (I especially appreciate the difference you made between relaxing vs. happy, and I agree with you), and researching the day before. Thanks for sharing.


  9. Halfway through this fantastic book. Everyone should have it on their bookshelf; it’s definitely a life changer. Thanks for the recommendation, Tim. Right on!


  10. Just started to read it and it’s written in the most delightful format. Perhaps because we are reading about creative geniuses of the 20th century, but it feels so whimsical. Thanks mucho for the reco!

    I do feel vindicated somewhat when the artist is a night owl. (What’s wrong with us night owls?) I may adopt some of these habits (those without amphetamines involved)


  11. I just started reading this book and am loving it!! Thanks so much for the suggestion Tim! I always enjoy your blog and think you are one of the coolest people of all time.


  12. Thank you Tim! I really love this book. As soon as I finished it I went back to the first page and started it all over again. I’ve never done that before. It’s inspiring a lot of creative work.


  13. Is there any sample of the audio intros? I don’t normally listen to audiobooks. However, I got the print book based on this post, and loved it. I’d actually consider listening to the intros because of how much value I got out of it.

    Also, is it possible to jump to each intro, or do you have to listen to the whole file in a block? The reason I don’t like audiobooks is that I read so much faster than I can listen.


  14. Tim !

    Absolutely delicious !!! Thank you for your suggestions. It is wonderful to feel Oddly Normal !!!
    I find you to be an inspirational bright universe, bringing erudite innovation to all of us. After searching for a modicum amount of support (in the flesh), alas I find it online via your blog and your suggestions.
    Thank you so very much!!!
    Have only one question via observation. You seem to have more male commentaries than women. I wonder why, you are delightful to listen and read.


  15. Well, I was unsure of where to post this, seeing as I am not currently commenting on this book, however I find it fitting because I am an artist and a writer in progress. I am actually replying to your book. I decided that I am going to be proactive and actually do your challenge by contacting you. You have said things that make a lot of sense, that I agree with and have actually thought about for a long time. The fact remains that I am not a desk employee, and I do a job that does require my full participation. I do the most boring job in the world and I don’t make enough money doing it, but that is I suppose what happens to college drop outs. I went to school for industrial design and interior architecture across the country with no money and no possessions. I was an artist and I realized that there is not any money in art if you cannot afford paint. So I decided to jump around to different majors in design that I only needed a computer for. However I realized that I do not want to spend the rest of my life attached to the hip, hand, foot, you name it to a computer like my mother who is a graphic designer, through and through. I don’t even like having a cell phone. I am not extremely technological like the rest of society is today and it seems that if you want to make money these days, you almost have to be. I want to use my hands to make sculptures, I want to paint, and build, and I want to write a book that I have partially written out on paper in the months that followed dropping out of school, and moving back home. I got a job and lost it because apparently it is illegal to not fill out an accident report at work, but if you fill it out as a temp, you will be fired. So I spent months without a job, and in that time I worked on my book, and now I have a job and no time to do my dishes besides one day a week, which happens to be today, and I decided to listen to your book who I can thank my mother for. I have since, been trying to conjure a new risk to take, however I feel as though I have been living my life as a risk taker of this sort for years. I have even taken on your challenge before I listened to your book to contact a celebrity, and it was in-fact Joyce Meyer who was going to be in Milwaukee while I lived there in college, and I sent her too many emails and tweets to count, on her various accounts, and I asked her to coffee, because I wanted to ask her something regarding one of her books and to thank her for her teachings. I did receive a reply, a week after she was due to visit Milwaukee, and the reply was that she would love to meet me for coffee, if I agreed to go to Africa to help with her endeavor because God had told her that it was where I needed to be. I figured she had not actually sent the reply, and while I would love to help the people in Africa, that is out of my reach, and at the time not possible. And maybe in reality, I do not want to go.

    So here I am back in Kentucky, living in my very first rental home with my fiance, making enough to get by and to sustain what I have, I come home exhausted, as does my fiance, and we live for the few precious moments that we have together working opposite shifts. Neither of us knows what risk we would take if given the choice. We hate what we do (basically warehouse work), and we want to do something more with our lives, but we have no idea what it is. He went to school for chemical engineering and dropped out years ago, and he lives with the fear of never finding his calling, and I suppose I want to be a stay at home mom and an artist forever, and we want to travel across the world to see our friends in Paris, and Birmingham. I require a patron to do what I want to accomplish and he has no idea what he even needs to figure out what he wants to do.

    My point is, what does one do, if one does not even know what their dream is? What if there are no leaps to really take anymore. He lept with me across the country, and for nothing really. We learned some harsh realities there, sure, but that is all. What would you do?

    From what I have learned of the world thus far, I know that:

    1. You have to know someone to be someone
    2. Northerners have a divine disdain for southerners
    3. Technology is a rapidly changing field, and what you learn now you will have to re-learn as it advances to stay in one field, and it is life-sucking for a career, and will soon be the people’s only option.
    4. everyone hates their job. (because life is an illusion, the same as how everyone wants to be rich until they are)
    5.If you hate where you come from, live somewhere else for years and you will come to appreciate where you came from.
    6. Politics have become nothing more than propaganda with the advertisement based culture that I know.
    7. Nothing is what it seems.

    So, what big leap is there to take? I have already lost everything several times, so I suppose I do not live in fear of losing anything anymore, besides my fiance, and my dog, and possibly being too far away and too poor to see my family again. I could quit the job that I hate just to find another, and dive back into debt as soon as we finally have enough to budget with. What else is there to do?


  16. Hi Tim,

    One ritual I’ve found useful is to do something that actively pushes my comfort zone each day. This is my push for today: contacting you, a person that intimidates me (in a good way) and sharing a mini-story.

    All creepiness aside, you were in a dream of mine a few months ago. You and Matt Damon (of all people) were hosting a large event, and the live entertainment had been having technical difficulties. Somehow I got the bold urge to suggest, quite loudly, that you and I dance a salsa performance to keep the audience amused. You agreed, and we put on a fantastic, spontaneous show. Apparently you’re a great salsa dancer :-)

    That’s it. Nothing spectacular, except that my silly ego had kept me from reaching out and sharing this. So to foster a bit more boldness in my waking life, and to practice not giving a f*ck, here goes nothing. Thanks for being my push for today!


  17. I find a couple of things interesting in this one:
    1. A lot of great artists are crazy and out of control, living on coffee and cigarettes. I’m a very reserved person and it always amazes me how people can be so self-destructive IMO, but it is all debatable and being reserved can subtract from the amount of workable material.
    2. OCD being the other extreme. Very interesting to see the range of how people perform the act of creating.
    3. I haven’t finished the book, but so far Toni Morrison is the only person I’ve come across that has created while having a 9-5 job and as a single mother, no less. How does one do it? Of course, that’s what we Tim Ferriss subscribers are trying to avoid, at all costs!

    I too am trying to find what rituals will be the most productive to me, all while having a 9-5 job. I have found that outside of the “working for the man” hours and my 6-8 hrs sleep, I truly need the remaining time for relaxation, socializing and pure down time. There is no energy left for extra productivity.
    I have 3.5 years left until I can, hopefully, be financially independent (at a pretty basic standard of living), and have the free time to figure out what else I want to do to supplement that. Vagabonding was a great inspiration on that front too!


  18. The book has been a rewarding & fun read. However- I am curious if you have any recommendations for finding successful habits for more physically demanding creative disciplines- ie actors & dancers & circus types. I am an aspiring actor & aerialist not always in control of the daily rituals due to day jobs, auditions, shooting schedules etc. Advice appreciated