Use Your Schedule to Produce Masterpieces Like Tchaikovsky
There is a question I receive from individuals who, like me, are creative, entrepreneurial and self-employed: “How can I stay focused so that I get more of the important stuff done and stop wasting time?” In my pursuit of a Soul-filled Life, I am always open to new sources of inspiration. So, how about learning from a composing legend, one of Russia’s finest, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty)?
During a summer road trip, I listened to a Great Masters Lecture on “The Life and Music of Tchaikovsky” and came across a genius description of a latter period in the composer's life when he experienced a great amount of contentment. In Tchaikovsky’s own words (in a letter to his brother), “I am reading a lot and working well…I eat, walk and sleep when ever and as long as I want. In a word, I am living.”
This level of happiness was an achievement for Tchaikovsky, an otherwise tortured soul who struggled under immense creative sensitivities and lived a difficult, alternative lifestyle as a closeted homosexual in conservative 19th century Russia.
How did Tchaikovsky find his contentment? At the age of 44, the composer purchased his first home in the countryside and created what became, for the rest of his life, a work day that was strictly ordered. I was struck by how within Tchaikovsky’s “order” there was a genius amount of freedom, creativity, and balance.
The following was Tchaikovsky’s daily schedule.
- Wake up between 7:00 and 8:00 am
- Breakfast, 1 hour of reading, 30-45 minute walk
- 9:30 – 1:00 pm Composing
- 1pm (sharp!) Lunch, followed by up to 2 hour walk
- 4pm Tea, 1 hour of reading
- 5:00-7:00pm Composing
- 7:00pm Stroll, dinner
- Post-dinner: If guests — play cards; if no guests — letter writing and piano practice
- 11pm Bed
What we can learn from Tchaikovsky?
The essence of Tchaikovsky’s schedule can help anyone who wants to replace scattered days of spinning wheels with focused productivity, and contains several key aspects that are translatable to anyone who has been confronted by the freedom of an untethered life.
(1) Chunk Your Time
Tchaikovsky did not “compose” all day long, which would be a recipe for burn out. Instead he had two “chunks” of structured time for “composing” during his day. One was 3 1/2 hours and the other 2 hours in length.
(2) Take breaks to feed your soul.
Tchaikovsky used long walks to balance his work and create space for inspiration. In his own words his walking was when he would “compose in my head” before returning to write it out on paper. What activity can you put into your day to balance out the more concentrated efforts?
(3) Create a regular structure to support your creative flow.
Tchaikovsky kept this schedule for most of the end of his life and it was a period of great contentment for him. He was also enormously productive and created some of his greatest works, including “The Nutcracker” and “Sleeping Beauty.” By giving his creative gifts regular structure, he was able to experience true contentment while also gifting the world with extraordinary work.
What can you take away from Tchaikovsky and his structured schedule for your own life?