25 Productivity Secrets from History's Greatest Thinkers

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Want to get stuff done? Try these productivity tips from some of the most influential minds in history, as compiled by Mason Curry in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

1. Like many of us, Beethoven started his day by making coffee. He insisted on using 60 beans per cup.

2. Benjamin Franklin was "early to bed, early to rise," and in his later years, early to take it all off. Franklin's morning "air baths" consisted of reading and writing completely starkers for about an hour. Then he put his clothes on and got back to work.

3. Many famous writers and artists made sure to eat breakfast. Victor Hugo preferred his eggs raw.

4. Before Freud went into the office, he got a daily house call/beard trimming from his barber.

5. Agatha Christie never owned a desk. She wrote her 80 novels, 19 plays, and numerous other works wherever she could sit down.

6. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up.

7. Thomas Wolfe also wrote standing up, using the top of a refrigerator as his desktop. (He was 6'6".)

8. Some people actually get work done at Starbucks. Rainbow Rowell, author of the critically acclaimed YA novel Eleanor and Park, has written all of her books at the coffee chain.

9. Richard Wright did all of his writing, rain or shine, on a bench in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park.

10. Maya Angelou is incapable of writing in pretty surroundings. She prefers working in nondescript hotel and motel rooms.

11. It wasn't that Frank Lloyd Wright necessarily worked well under pressure. He just wouldn't sketch anything until he'd worked out an entire design in his head.

12. Truman Capote told The Paris Review, "I can't think unless I'm lying down." Neither could Proust.

13. When composer Igor Stravinsky felt blocked, he'd stand on his head to clear his mind.

14. Woody Allen gets in the shower—sometimes multiple times per day—when he needs a mental boost. (Here's why his habit just might work.)

15. Classical pianist Glenn Gould fasted on days he recorded music. He thought it made his mind sharper.

16. German poet Friedrich Schiller insisted that the smell of apples rotting in his desk drawer stimulated his creativity.

17. Sometimes focusing is the issue. While writing The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen worked at his computer wearing earplugs, earmuffs, and a blindfold.

18. Stephen King writes every day of the year and aims for a goal of 2000 words each day. (It usually takes about five hours.)

19. Starting in 1950, Vladimir Nabokov wrote first drafts on index cards. This way, he could rearrange paragraphs and chapters with a quick shuffle. Once the author knew what order he wanted, his wife Vera typed them into one manuscript.

20. When Anthony Trollope finished writing one book, he immediately started another. Henry James did the same thing.

21. Theologian Jonathan Edwards, most famous for the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," didn't have the luxury of Post-it notes or a portable pen. When he had ideas while horseback riding, he'd associate a single thought with a section of his clothing and then pin a piece of paper to that area. When Edwards returned to his desk, he'd unpin the papers and write down the thoughts.

22. After dinner, Mark Twain read the day's writing aloud to his family to get their feedback.

23. While writing Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice appropriately slept all day and worked all night. She likes to follow this schedule to avoid distractions.

24. Writer Jerzy Kosinski got eight hours of sleep each day, but he didn't get it all at once. He woke at 8 a.m. and then slept four hours in the afternoon. Then he woke again, continued working until the wee hours, and slept four more hours before starting the next day.

25. Night owl Willem de Kooning often wore a hat and coat while he painted—his studio turned off the building's heat after 5 p.m.

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September 16, 2013 - 11:00am
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