Leonardo’s To-Do List

Leonardo’s To-Do List : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR.

An interesting article by Rober Krulwich which is relevant to creativity. I’ve summarized the main points from his article.

“It is useful,” Leonardo wrote, to “constantly observe, note, and consider.” 

Leonardo used to travel with a small notebook hanging from his belt, and “whenever something caught his eye,” he would make a note, or begin “sketching furiously.” This is essentially a “To Do” list buried in one of those notebooks, a bunch of things Leonardo planned to do one week, or month, in the early 1490’s.

Leonardo's To-Do List : Krulwich Wonders... : NPR

Here’s what was on his mind, stuff he wanted to do. This is a direct translation, with Krulwich’s amendments in brackets:
Leonardo's To-Do List : Krulwich Wonders... : NPR

What a jumble! Cannons, wall construction, studying the sun, ice skating in Flanders, optics, and that oh-so-casual, “Draw Milan.” It’s like his mind could wander off in any direction at any time. How did he concentrate? How did he focus? Great minds can go as they please.

That ability to let go, float free, does seem like an essential part of a creative mind, not just in giant ones.

Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, a study suggests. Or there are “unexpected benefits of not being able to focus.”


The other element is stubborn curiosity. Leonardo, that icon of a Renaissance Man, wanted to know everything. On one page of his notebooks from the early 1480’s, you can see he has gotten a new pen and he’s just doodling, testing it out, and as his mind wanders free, what does he write?

Says Toby Lester: it’s a riff on the phrase “Dimmi” (“Tell me”). Leonardo jots the words, “Tell me…tell me whether…tell me how things are…tell me if there was ever.” These “are the tics of an increasingly hungry mind.”

A very hungry mind.

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