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Want more room to be creative? Schedule your vices

I live by one simple rule to stay healthy and creative: Schedule your vices.

Vices are usually seen as wicked or immoral activities: prostitution, pornography,  illegal drugs. My definition is softer. I think of vices as consumptive activities that are pleasurable but that have no truly redeeming qualities. Things like alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and television.

Don’t get me wrong — I have no strong moral argument against my vices. They’re just fine and I don’t self-flagellate if I find myself straying by having the occasional beer at 3:45 p.m. on a Thursday. But I’m vigilant about these vices because unlike most other activities and substances, overdoing these has an immediate and profoundly negative effect on my health and creativity. How? Like this:

  • Caffeine is great. It gives me a nice lift in the morning. After two cups of coffee I feel smarter, wittier and more able to take on the world. But if I push that to three cups, or if I continue to drink coffee after noon, I become antsy, jittery and my heart starts skipping more than the occasional beat. That leads to lying in bed looking at the ceiling rather than getting out to take photos or sitting down to write.

  • Alcohol. Wonderful invention. Even chimpanzees like to eat rotten, fermented fruit for a buzz. It makes me feel looser, expansive and, like caffeine, a laugh riot. But we all know the downsides to drinking too much alcohol. Hangovers. Weight gain. Medical complications. Obnoxious declarations of affection for friends, their spouses or their pets. Worst of all, if I’m drinking alcohol, I’m not creating anything worthwhile. I might feel wittier and more creative…but I’m not.

  • Chocolate is the least troublesome of my vices. But it, too, has its pitfalls. Cavities. Weight gain. Some say dark chocolate has health benefits, but the amount I would have to consume to gain those benefits would bankrupt me and put me in a whole new pant size. Better to think of it as an occasional treat.

  • Television. Ah, television. Back in the 1960s, when they only had three channels, FCC Chairman Newt Minow called television “a vast wasteland.” In the 90s, Bruce Springsteen despaired there were 57 channels and nothing on. I wish. Today the sheer amount of sludge on TV is truly boggling — and don’t get me started on streaming services. If I’m not careful, I could be sucked into an endless deluge of Real Housewives, Moonshiners, Gunsmoke, House Hunters…it goes on and on. Watching TV is the opposite of creativity.

It adds up to consuming too many things that aren’t good for my health or creativity. So I tightly control, schedule and monitor my consumption.

My schedule is simple:

  • No caffeine after 12 p.m. Better yet, none after 10 a.m.

  • No alcohol before 4 p.m. And mostly on weekends (Friday counts as part of the weekend, as do major holidays).

  • No chocolate before noon. And only a little.

  • No television before 5 p.m. and none after 10 p.m.

I adhere to this schedule religiously. Not doing so would be disastrous. You’d find me at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday slumped on the couch high on espresso, drinking a beer, chocolate stains on my shirt, the TV running endless episodes of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. My mind would be hamburger salad, my stomach a crime scene and worst of all, I would be creating nothing of value. A truly horrible vision.

An important corollary is to never turn my schedule from negatives to positives; never make each restriction a commandment. For example, saying “no chocolate before noon” doesn’t mean I must have chocolate after noon. It’s purely optional. But if I am going to have chocolate, it must be after 4 p.m.

If I’ve inspired you to try scheduling your own vices, my advice is to start slowly. Withdrawal can be painful, especially from chocolate. I’d love to hear how you make out.

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