Brain Pickings’ Founder, Maria Popova, on Finding Balance Between Productivity and Being Present in her Daily Routine
If you blog and/or are into learning, growing and expanding your horizons thanks to the world wide web, there is a fair chance that you know of Brain Pickings and its creator, Maria Popova. Popova, who has been curating Brain Pickings for almost eight year now -a site that receives 7 million visitors a month, describes herself as someone who “read[s] and I write[s], in that order. And in between I do some thinking, and I think about how to live a meaningful life basically.”
There is a lot to say about Brain Pickings, and I can only recommend you to go check it out if you are not already one of its avid readers, but this article is about the woman behind the site, and particularly her workflow. Like many creatives trying to nurture their personal growth and share it online while keeping up with Life, I have been wondering how Popova manages to produce such high quality content, at such pace -she writes up to 3 articles a day- on her own, while being active on Social Media, handling a weekly newsletter, traveling to give talks, and still have a life in real life.
So it was with great excitement that I discovered that Tim Ferris hosted a 1h30 podcast with Popova, asking her a bunch of questions I was hoping he would ask including about her routine and workflow. (And if you too are into daily routine and rituals, read this book).
Popova gives great emphasis in her life about finding balance between her work and life. Even though she does have a precise schedule with many bullet points on her to-do list, she also pays attention to including breaks and alternating cycles between reading, writing, exercising, seeing people and being online.
It’s rare to hear someone as successfully productive as Popova talking about working hard to achieve balance and have a meaningful life as opposed to being successful and expanding into an empire.
I believe this can talk to a lot of indie storytellers who are constantly told that being extreme in their obsession is the way to go. It certainly speaks to me.
Maria Popova’s Daily Routine to Find Balance and Live a Meaningful Life
“The one thing I have struggled with or tried to solve for myself for the last few years, couple of years maybe, is the sort of really delicate balance between productivity and presence, especially in a culture that seems to measure our worth or our merit, or value through our efficiency and our earnings and our ability to perform certain tasks as opposed to just this fulfillment we feel in our own lives, and the presence that we take in day to day, and that’s something that’s become more and more apparent to me.
I’m a little bit reluctant to discuss routine as some sort of holy grail of creative process because it’s just really, it’s a crutch.
I mean routines and rituals help us not feel like this overwhelming messiness of just day to day life would consume us. It’s a control mechanism but that’s not all there is and if anything, it should be in the service of something greater which is being present with one’s own life.
So with that in mind my day is very predictable. I get up in the morning, I meditate between 15 to 25 minutes before I do anything else. [I get up] exactly 8h after I’ve gone to bed so it varies. I’m a huge proponent of sleep. When I write or when I guess try to think, what I do is essentially make associations between seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts. And in order for that to happen, you know those associate of chains need to be firing and when I’m sleep deprived I feel like I don’t have full access to my brain. […]
So I get up 8 hours after I’ve gone to bed, I meditate, I go to the gym where I do most of my longer form reading. I get back home, I have breakfast and I start writing. I usually write between two and three articles a day and one of them tends to be longer. When I write I need uninterrupted time so I try to get the longer one done early on during the day when I feel much more alert, so I don’t look at email or anything really external to the material I’m dealing with, which does require quite a bit of research usually, so it’s not like I can cut myself off from the Internet or from other books, but I don’t have people interruptions I guess, so anything social.
Then I take a short break, I’m a believer in sort of pacing, creating a sort of rhythm where you do very intense focus work for an extended period and then you take a short break and then cycle back.
And then I deal with any sort of admin stuff like emails, just taking care of errands and what-not. Then I resume writing, and I write my other article or articles, through the evening. I try to have some private time just later in the day, either with friends or with my partner. Just time that is unburdened by deliberate thoughts, although you can never unburden yourself from thoughts in general and then usually later at night I either do some more reading or some writing or a combination of the two.”
I find it both humbling and inspiring because it is so hard for me to implement so many activities as a daily routine. I do have a to-do list for every day, and juggle between projects of different sizes -including this site, but I also am always thrown off by life and its unexpected needs.
What about you, are you satisfied with your daily routine to create, make a living and live a meaningful life with others? What have you find useful?
Let me/us know, it’s always inspiring!