Leonardo Da Vinci’s Top Six Tips for Getting Things Done

“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”

If you want tips on how to become more productive, one awesome source would be Leonardo da Vinci.

He painted a whole lot of classic paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. His journals contain ideas for inventions like hydraulic pumps, steam cannons, helicopters and hang gliders. He was also, among other things, an anatomist, sculptor, botanist and musician.

Da Vinci got stuff done. A lot of stuff.

How did he do it? Well, here is a guide with his tips for getting things done.

1. Do.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

If you want to get things done you have to do things. If you want big results you often have to take massive action. There is no way to get around taking action if you want real life results.

But it’s easy to get stuck in a mindset where you in a way substitute thinking for action. You think and think and take action just once in a while.

One thing that gets you stuck in this mindset is that you may see other people doing the same thing. And so your habit of taking action once in a while gets reinforced since it feels like the “normal” thing to do. The fear of failure and what people might say if you try, fail or succeed are powerful factors too.

But to get what you want you need to break out of that. You need to take a lot of action. And if you are an overthinker or procrastinator like I was then there is probably room for a lot more action every week.

I think the first step to taking more action is just to be aware of how much action you are actually taking. To be aware how much time you are spending thinking or planning. And catch yourself when you get stuck in unproductive thought patterns. And then adjust to take more action.

How can you snap yourself into action? Two tips that works well for me are:

  • Pump up your enthusiasm. One way of doing that is to see what’s positive in any situation. Then build on that to get your enthusiasm going. Perhaps it’s just a thing or two. But that glimmer of positivity can be a starting point to change your perspective to a more positive one where you can find enthusiasm. And whatever the situation you are in will often be easier and more pleasurable to handle. Another way to pump up your enthusiasm is to get an enthusiastic vibe from other people. Listen to CDs with enthusiastic people – Brian Tracy and Wayne Dyer are two helpful guys – for perhaps 20 minutes. When you are done listening you’ll probably feel a lot more enthusiastic. Or hang out with enthusiastic people and get them to talk about what they are enthusiastic about. Enthusiasm is contagious, so use that fact to help yourself.
  • Just do it anyway. If you don’t feel like you could pump up your enthusiasm, just go and do what you want to do anyway. You may not want to go to the gym. But you do it anyway. And after you’ve been there for a while you are glad you went there, because now you are getting your workout done. And you are feeling proactive, enthusiastic and good about yourself.

2. Do. Experience. Understand.

“Experience does not ever err. It is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.”

“Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.”

If you take little action it’s easy to overestimate the value of the results. A failure or a mistake might feel like the end of the world. You may perhaps you beat yourself up about it for the rest of the week.

That won’t help much though. As you learn to take more action, the results contain less emotional power. You don’t get overwhelmed or lost in a sad funk. You also realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you. People will probably not care as much as you think if you try, fail or succeed with something. They have their own lives to worry about.

So instead learn to take the lessons from a mistake or failure. Do not take the failure so seriously but instead see it – just like everything else – as a valuable experience.

So dive into life. Get experiences, because it is only here you will get some real understanding.

3. Be consistent.

“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

It’s easy to get riled up and get going with something new on an enthusiastic high. But that initial enthusiasm tends to dissipate. That’s when you hit a plateau. That’s when you need to keep moving. Doing everything in small spurts and then turning to the next thing when something loses it “newness” makes it hard to get what you want.

You have to be persistent. And consistent. Then you can get pretty much anything done. One of the big reasons why people don’t get what they want is simply that they won’t keep going. Or that they go, stop, go, stop. Persistence and consistency isn’t exactly the sexiest things in personal growth. But they are ridiculously helpful.

Because the results you want may not come to you tomorrow or next week. Improving your life is often hinges on the ability to not go running around for new magic pills all the time or choosing the instant gratification option every time.

So, how do you become more consistent?

  • Be aware. Just by being aware of what you are doing – and not doing – you can stop and change how you think and act in your everyday life. This will take time, but little by little you can avoid your own pitfalls – such as for instance the instant gratification route – more and more.
  • Set the context for your day. What you do early in the day often sets the context for your day. And your days are your life. We have a tendency to want to be consistent with what we have done before. One thing that can give you a good start is to do the hardest and/or most important thing first. If you start your day like this then you don’t have to worry about that special task for the rest of the day. Taking this route makes the day feel easier and you’ll have less inner resistance to getting the rest of the tasks of the day done. Another way to use this tip is to work out early in the day. It will make you feel energized and more alert for the rest of the day.

4. Move over, through or around obstacles.

“Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”

Obstacles are tricky. They can easily discourage you. But they are seldom as scary as they look. If you actually start to smash them or move around them you may find that it is easier than you may have thought. The biggest obstacles are often the ones you put up in your mind. Not just in the way that you perceive external obstacles and make them bigger than they are. But also in how you create obstacles that aren’t even out there. They exist solely in your mind.

So be careful and reconsider your assumptions and perception. Realize that you may be making things a lot harder than they actually need to be. Realize that you to some part decide how hard or easy something is.

By diving into reality and taking action you get real life experience of how things are. Then you may see how the obstacles were just in your mind. Or how you can move over, under or through the obstacle by learning and adjusting. Or just by being persistent.

Look at an obstacle as a way for the world to test you and teach you. Instead of a solid brick wall.

5. Know what’s important (for you).

“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.”

There is always enough time. You have the same amount of hours in the day that da Vinci had. But the thing is to know what is important to you. And to take action based on that.

Knowing what you want and following that path is vital for the rest of the tips above. To be able to take all that action, to do it consistently and to crush internal or external obstacles you need to know what you want. That will give you the motivation to keep going. And I’m talking about what you really want. What is most important to you (not what your parents, teachers or society may tell is important).

How do you find out what you really want? I think you need to really think about it. But more importantly, I think you need to just experiment and try things. From all that doing and all those experiences you learn things. Not just about the world but also about yourself.

Experience makes it clearer in your mind if what you thought you wanted is really what you want. Over time your map of yourself and your life becomes more accurate. And by doing things you not only find what is most important to you. You also find the things you really enjoy doing and that makes it so much easier to keep going.

6. Focus.

“As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.”

You need to know what’s important for you. You also need to focus on it. And focus on it consistently.

And this is not just about keeping your focus on what you are doing and what you want each and every day. It’s also about the focus of your attitude. To for instance keep your focus on the positive, on your curiousness and your enthusiasm. On what gets you where you want to go.

Instead of negative doubts, beating yourself up or other things you may focus on from time to time for some reason. That stuff will seldom help you. Of course, if there is a real problem then that needs to be handled. But oftentimes it’s easy to get stuck in negativity because of old habits, what other people may say or just to strengthen a victim identity and get a strange sense of satisfaction and familiarity out of the negativity.

So finally, here are three practical tips that I have found to be very helpful to improve my focus.

  • Exercise. This is so key. Regular exercise makes me more focused, positive and energized. The best way to make exercise a consistent part of your life each week is to try different things and find what you like doing and what fits you and your situation.
  • Singletask. Do just one thing at a time to get things done quicker and with less stress. For me at least it works a lot better than multitasking.
  • Work in a cone of silence. Try to minimize possible distractions. You could do that by for instance unplugging your internet cable, shutting off your phone and closing your door.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great post. I’ve found in my life sometimes I over think and under do. I like the”a well-spent day brings happy sleep” quote because I can’t count how many nights I used to have trouble sleeping when I thought about all the things I needed to do that day but ended up procrastinating.

    Not only does taking action daily eventually give you the results you are looking for, it also gives you a feeling of accomplishment each and every day along the way.

  • Thanks for sharing these useful tips with us . Leonardo -Da Vinci have left behind his experiences which we all need to know so badly in order to achieve success . I know beginning the work is the most difficult and important part of any work to be done.
    How motivated are you? – The test finds out how inspired you really are.

  • Thank you for all the added ideas and insights, guys! :)

  • Thanks, Henrik, for this wonderful post. As always it’s a pleasure to read you.

  • Persistent and consistent. I like that!

    Tim D
    what are you grateful for today?

  • Dr. Disshum

    Funny he cautioned about spreading yourself too thin, despite being the amazing polymath he was. Seems he was aware of the perils of this too.

    Dr. Disshum’s last blog ..Jedi mind tricks for the procrastinator – Implementation Intentions

  • Mahendra

    Bravo Henrik! Beautiful thoughts and quite practical solutions… love this blog.

  • Esther

    If you want to read more I would recommend Michael Gelb’s book ‘How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci’.

  • Carolyn Hawkins

    Very nice to be reminded of Leonardo’s great wisdom.

  • As someone who works with people who want to stop compulsive behaviours and realise more positive ways of living, I found this post inspirational. Thank you.

  • Great post.
    Goes to show how Leonardo was way ahead of hit time & his philosophies have stand to the test of time. What you write in your post is what some of the Personal Development Guru’s preach today :-)

  • Great post Henrik! This was exactly what I was looking for. I’m actually going through a time-management course right now.

    “1 Do” and “6 Focus” I find the most profound. In our modern age, there are a lot of distractions and so many overwhelming things going on in our life making a lot of us unaware of what we are doing and losing focus easily, so a lot of us just have to learn to manage ourselves, as time is uncontrollable.

    Being one of the greatest inventor of all time, it’s no surprise to me that Leonardo would be a master at self-management with so many things going.