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February 5, 2003
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
 
Happy New Year!

Now, what are you going to do with it? How will you use those 8,736 hours? Sure, if you're like most folks, about 4,992 will go toward work and sleep (personally, I sleep 2 to 3 hours a night), but what about the remaining 3,744? That's three thousand, seven hundred and forty-four hours that you could use to make yourselves smarter people and better creatives.

There's an old saying, "If you want something done, ask a busy person." It's true. You can count on busy people. Busy people don't waste time. In my many years as an educator at Portfolio Center, I've seen, firsthand, that the most successful students and professionals are the ones most otherwise engaged. The soup-kitchen volunteers, the moonlighting musicians, the stand-up comedians, and the tri-athletes: these people pursue interests outside their primary creative field, and those outside interests then feed their creativity.

It's not a new idea. The man who penned the Declaration of Independence and became our third President, Thomas Jefferson, gave us "Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today." He was a lawyer, a scientist, an inventor, a writer, an architect (self-taught, he designed Monticello), a musician (violin), and a world traveler who spoke six languages. Perhaps you should think about that the next time you find yourself a slugabed, nursing a hangover at noon on Sunday.

Another icon of industriousness, the 20th century's greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, designed houses, offices, churches, schools, libraries, bridges, and museums. But he didn't stop at buildings. He also designed furniture, fabrics, art, glass, lamps, dinnerware, silver, linens, and graphics, for a total of 1141 works. In addition to these accomplishments, he was an educator, a philosopher, and a prolific writer.

I'm not simply trying to raise the dead here to make my argument, either. Still alive and kicking, famous natural light photographer Jay Maisel, who's scheduled to speak at Portfolio Center this month, has on his premises large wood and metalworking shops. He studied painting, drawing, and three-dimensional design has a painting degree from Yale.

I doubt these folks would have wasted the average three hours a day the typical American fritters away watching television. "But wait," you protest, "in this industry we must keep our fingers on the pulse of popular culture!" I'll give you that and ask you this: How many episodes of Real World do you really need to see before you "get it"? Single twenty-somethings lodged in renovated firehouses or penthouses, in the cushy downtown areas of cities like Boston and Las Vegas, put to work in the music/entertainment industry.

The gay one will teach the homophobe that people are people, there will be a drug or alcohol intervention, someone will confess to an eating disorder, and someone will miss her period.
But I digress. I read recently that Americans are logged online an average of 1 hour and 41 minutes per day. How many times a day will you check your email? How much time do you spend surfing the Web for urban legends or bidding on string art? That time could be better used keeping up with trends in management and finance, politics and world affairs, lifestyle and culture, the arts, science and technology. Unless you've read every book and publication on this list (I have other lists for music, film, and theater), you're wasting precious time:

Emotive Branding
, by Marc Gob
Circle of Innovation, by Tom Peters
Silence, John Cage
Jack, Jack Welch
Genius, Harold Bloom
The Clock of the Long Now, by Stewart Brand
Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart
Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan
Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras
Mad Ave, Jackie Meyer
Agape Agape, William Gaddis
Finnegan's Wake, by James Joyce
Hell, all the classics:
Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie
Any book by Kurt Vonnegut
"McSweeney's Quarterly," edited by Dave Eggers
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell
The Financial Section of the Wall Street Journal
The Journal of the American Medical Association
Design, Form, and Chaos
, Paul Rand
The Universe in a Nutshell, Stephen Hawking
I Send You This Cadmium Red, by John Berger and John Christie
"Poetry," edited by Joseph Parisi
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

Besides, when was the last time you saw live theater or took a class? Can you cook a gourmet meal or dance the Salsa? Knit a sweater or take up the banjo. Blow glass. Learn Italian. Write a sonnet. Write a sonnet in Italian.

If you are a writer, learn to paint. If you're a painter, try you hand at sculpture. Travel, even if it's just to the bad side of town. See your world through a fresh perspective. Get your old beat-up bike out of the garage and pump up the tires. Better yet, go buy yourself a pair of running shoes. Stretch your mind. Use your body in a different way. Dauicte cholla fromba e io choll' archo (Michelangelo Buonarroti).

Eva Cassidy, the late, eclectic, unpegged-to-jazz singer, was not adequately celebrated or compensated during her life, but that didn't stop her from creating her exquisite music (which is finally getting recognition). She commented four months before her brave death, "You reach people. You do something because you love it, not to please someone else." She devoted her time to perfecting her art and leaving her mark.

What's important, in this business and in life, is to author your values, to position your signature as a style, to develop a vocabulary, a form, that is yours, and then share it. Use your time and energy to establish an identity in this homogenous world.

As Stephen Doyle noted recently in the magazine Step in Design, "We have just entered the century in which all of us will die." No sense killing time.

We can sleep when we die.

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The future of advertising and design lies in the busy hands of Hank Richardson. As President of the renowned Portfolio Center, Hank shapes the minds, and books, of advertising's hottest young talent. Hank doesn't stop there. A leading member of countless creative organizations across North America, Hank is one hard-working cat. 
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