Each of the world’s top writers, leaders, actors, composers, and business professionals employ unique ways to maintain their productivity. Many can be easily integrated into our daily lives. Keep reading to learn how some of the most recognized names in history have stayed on top of the tasks—and achieved fame and fortune.
1. Maya Angelou: separate your work and home environments
Maya Angelou was so serious about separating her home and work lives that, for years, she rented a small, very sparse hotel room where she wrote each day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The only things she allowed in the room were a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry. A master of single-tasking, Angelou’s diligence led her to win a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, three Grammys, and many other distinctions.
2. Beethoven and Bergman: rise early, work until midday, take a break
A common thread among brilliant thinkers and creative visionaries is an early, powerful start to the day. Composer Ludwig van Beethoven and Swedish director, writer, and producer Ingmar Bergman, and many other writers kept the same schedule for decades. They woke up before 8 a.m., working until midday, and then taking time for a meal. Beethoven typically took a long walk afterward and Bergman, a short nap.
3. Ben Franklin: record your daily successes and frustrations
Taking the time to write out a summary of your day is a productivity habit that Benjamin Franklin swore by. Every day around 9 p.m., this Founding Father took the time to answer his evening question: “What good have I done today?” Another fan of this activity is Steve Rotkoff, a decorated (and creative!) military intelligence officer who kept a lengthy diary of haikus that detailed his frustrations with the previous day’s events. Making the effort to recap your daily activities can help you prioritize your goals and set a clear roadmap for the next day.
4. Paul McCartney: work through your limitations
As detailed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, The Beatles achieved the “10,000 hour rule” purportedly required for success. By playing more than 300 times a year for four straight years in the same German concert hall, they were able to perfect their art, no matter the conditions. Paul McCartney once performed using a right-hand guitar (he’s a lefty). There was nothing that could stop him and his band from becoming the best.
5. Barack Obama: eliminate unnecessary decisions
Being the president of any country comes with a never-ending, and certainly never trivial to-do list. That’s why President Barack Obama makes President Barack Obama makes every effort to limit unnecessary decision making, like what to eat or what to wear. His memos even include a clear decision-making format: agree, disagree, or “let’s discuss.” While being a President is a whole different playing field, the rest of us can adopt this useful productivity habit by making weekly meal plans and setting aside tomorrow’s clothes before going to bed.
6. Kant, Dickens, and Darwin: exercise in the afternoon
If there’s any common theme in famous peoples’ productivity habits, it is that the majority of them work intensely in the morning and leave time for other activities in the afternoon. In this interactive chart, we can see that famous creatives like Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Richard Strauss all took afternoon breaks to exercise. It’s the perfect equation: exercise your brain in the a.m., and your muscles in the p.m.
7. Jerry Seinfeld: never break the chain
Paul McCartney and the Beatles aren’t the only ones known for their repetitious performances. Jerry Seinfeld has an entire Jerry Seinfeld has an entire productivity method named after him for this same reason. In his early comedy days, he realized that repetition was they key to improvement. He says that “after a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Which productivity habit from these famous people would you integrate into your life? Have you already tried one? Let us know in the comments!