Famous visionaries often develop a reputation for having a few eccentricities. However, for many people, these small eccentricities are part of a larger group of daily rituals that help them to be at their most productive and prolific. While not all these tips, tricks, and rituals will work for you, they help to shed light on what some of our most beloved cultural icons and historical figures are willing to do in order to stay on top of their demanding workloads.
1. Addicted to Notecards: Vladimir Nabokov used 5- by 8-inch index cards to compose and order the scenes in his novels. This allowed him to experiment with the order of the chapters before transcribing the final manuscript.
2. Slow and Steady: Stephen King has explained that he always writes 10 pages a day, every day of the year (even holidays). His slow and steady approach to project management has ensured that he has a steady stream of new works entering the marketplace, and he is one of the most prolific modern authors working in America today.
3. Get Up Early: Writers like Mary Higgins Clark and Sylvia Plath started writing at 5 am and 4 am each day, respectively. Both women had small children, and those early moments in the day were the only time they had to pursue their writing careers. Writer Denison Hatch forced himself to write just 500 words per day before starting his day job, and ultimately sold three novels.
4. Get Centered With a Favorite Book Passage: Some writers need to go through the ritual of touching base with a favorite literary totem. For example, Somerset Maugham would read Voltaire’s “Candide” before starting work, while Willa Cather read the Bible.
Businessmen and Entrepreneurs
5. Be Impulsive: In business, if you have a good idea, you need to move quickly to keep ahead of your competition. In the words of Bill Gates, “When you find a good idea act on it right away.”
6. Get Ahead By Making It Personal: “Big businesses will always try to crush small upstarts. To beat big businesses, use the strengths of being small. Big corporations are impersonal; staff are often not treated well. At a small company, you can make sure your staff are proud of working for you and then they’ll work hard to be successful. And small companies are more nimble.” – Sir Richard Branson
7. Work Long Hours Now, Reap the Benefits Later: Ben Franklin knew the benefits of working long hours, as well as being known among his peers as being a person who worked long hours. This work ethic was essential for growing his printing business. He also had a routine of asking himself questions during the day. Ben Franklin asked himself each morning (at 5 am), “What good shall I do today?”; every night before bed (around 10 pm), “What good have I done to-day?”
Thinkers and Artists
8. Get Extreme: Architect Bernard Tschumi avoids procrastination by working at one of two extremes. “I work best either under pressure or by emptying my brain over the weekend,” he explains. “That blank state is helpful. It is like an athlete before a competition.”
9. Force Yourself to Stay Focused: Greek orator Demosthenes would force himself to stay focused on composing his orations by shaving off half of his hair, making him look so ridiculous that he wouldn’t be tempted to procrastinate by leaving his home. Victor Hugo would do something similar, forcing himself to meet his daily writing goals by having his valet hide his clothes. Yup, the guy who wrote “Les Miserables” liked to work in the nude.
10. Never Take Your Eyes Off Your Competition: Playwright Henrik Ibsen would work at a desk decorated with a portrait of arch-rival playwright August Strindberg. Try keeping a picture of your competitors face or company logo on your desk to spur you to new heights.
11. Use Caffeine (But Don’t Abuse It): Mathematician Paul Erdös used the last 25 years of his life to devote 19 hour days to the pursuit of higher math. To stay alert, he amped himself up with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin (along with strong espresso and caffeine tablets.) “A mathematician,” he said, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”
12. Blow Off Some Steam: King Otto, ruler of Bavaria from 1886 to 1913, shot a peasant every morning to start his day. Thankfully, his two advisors were kind-hearted: one gave the king a rifle filled with blanks, and the other dressed as a “peasant”, acting out death throes when he was “shot”. While shooting people is absolutely NOT okay, never underestimate the stress relief you can get from a few rounds of Call of Duty.
These examples of the daily routines and productivity tricks of famous people may not be ideally suited for your busy lifestyle, but they are certainly worth keeping in mind the next time you are stuck on a project and need help powering through. And seriously, don’t pull a “King Otto”. That would not be cool.
Resources and References