What Leonardo da Vinci Can Teach You About Productivity

Leonardo da Vinci was a guy who knew how to get things done. The quintessential Renaissance Man, Lenny was a master painter, sculptor, engineer, astronomer, musician, architect, inventor…basically he was better at everything than everyone else, and he had plenty of concrete evidence to prove it.

So what can a guy who died five hundred years ago tell us about productivity in the modern age? You might be surprised…

Shift Gears Regularly

Not only did da Vinci excel in many different areas of human endeavors, but he typically did so concurrently. It wasn’t unusual for him to take years to finish any single undertaking, in part because he was a perfectionist but primarily because he was never working on just one thing. He’d take a break from a giant horse sculpture in Milan to design naval defenses for Venice, possibly painting a few masterpieces in the meantime. Changing gears lets the mind re-focus and keeps things interesting—one of the fundamental requirements for productivity.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Leonardo da Vinci didn’t do everything Leonardo da Vinci did.

Let me explain.

Back in the Renaissance, all the coolest kids—artists, architects, engineers, and scientists of all stripes—had workshops, and these workshops would attract apprentices (read: interns) by the dozens. While da Vinci was in charge of concepts, designs, and final approval, many of the details were tended to by his underlings. It wasn’t all that different from a startup environment, where a few proven entrepreneurs at the top organize other skilled labor and some investment capital (read: aristocratic sponsorship) to produce world-changing products and services.

First, Research

Genius doesn’t spring up in a vacuum. Da Vinci never seemed short of ideas or ways to pull them off because da Vinci never stopped learning. Research not only enables us to know what works, launches us further in our understanding so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and inspires us to create new, different, and better things. Leo knew how to use research to his best advantage in everything he did—the time he spent reading and observing rather than “doing” was essential to his productive processes.

Make Friends

The way funding for artistic and scientific endeavors worked in da Vinci’s day wasn’t too far off from our own: corporate and government interests were heavily involved, and you had to be a successful politicker if you wanted to get your life’s work funded, recognized, and adopted. Leonardo made friends with everyone he could, sometimes creating peace between rivals and sometimes quietly shifting sides when the winds blew the right way. He wasn’t disloyal, but his principles kept him dedicated to his work—a strategy that paid off well for everyone.

We might not all have a brain that functions at the level of da Vinci’s, but modern technology makes it easier for us to make more productive use of our time even if we can’t do it all at once. Take a page or two out of Leonardo’s notebook and get the tools that can help, and you ight amaze yourself with what you can accomplish.