What Artists Can Teach Us About Excellence at WorkLessons on Channeling Inspiration

A rich pallette of freshly used paints and paintbrushes from a day of creating art

As Aristotle rightly put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”. Aristotle, however, never worked in middle management. Sometimes it’s Thursday and after dealing with paperwork, administrative issues, and office politics, it’s hard to stay inspired and focus on the deadlines at hand. So we love it when artists talk about how they prepare for work, how they channel inspiration and how they tackle the non-creative aspects of their work that just need to get done.

Preparing for a project by Procrastination by Hans Zimmer

Someone on Quora asked how famous composer Hans Zimmer composes a sound-track and Hans Zimmer himself decided to respond. He starts by being perfectly relatable.

Fear, panic, invention, procrastination, conversation, more conversation with the director, more conversation with the DP (because I want to know what the color palette is), reading an enormous amount of books, more procrastination, more fear, and more deadlines until somebody yanks the score away from me.

Immersive Excellence by Ashton Kutcher

Hans Zimmer at the end of his response wrote about how music is the beginning and the end for him. Ashton Kutcher, also on Quora, wrote about how he prepared to play Steve Jobs. 3 months of work including reading what Steve Jobs read, meeting the people he met, watching documentaries, clips, pretty much anything he could get his hands on. Excellence is an immersive experience.

Building a Routine and Tracking Your Progress By Ernest Hemingway

In the 1958 Paris Review interview of Ernest Hemingway, he discussed his writing routine, and how he stays organized. The article stated:

He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

Hemingway discussed his strict routine saying:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.

Staying Intrinsically Motivated By Jimmy Wales

Quora, the great Q&A equalizer resulted in another great question, this time for Jimmy Wales. When asked how he stays motivated to work for a startup when he could make a lot of money, he responded that it’s not about the money. Wikipedia has made his life

dramatically more interesting and actually financially successful than it ever was before, even without taking any salary or expenses of any kind from Wikipedia itself

If you are to do your best work, it’s going to have to be about more than money. It has to be about a grand adventure you really enjoy.

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Advice Annie is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who help answer career and workplace questions