7 Of History’s Weirdest, Most Awesome Productivity Tips

Beethoven, Franklin, Angelou. Caffeine, nudity, hotel rooms. How Fast Company–and history’s greats–do productivity.

7 Of History’s Weirdest, Most Awesome Productivity Tips

If genius is close to madness, then works of genius require working like a mad man, woman, or muppet.


As Amanda Green writes on Mental Floss–drawing from Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work–some of history’s most creative people had the most peculiar workflows. Like how:

1) Franklin got naked

If you make enough money, people call you eccentric rather than crazy. Productivity godfather Benjamin Franklin provides a bespectacled case study: As Green notes, the Founding Father enjoyed an air bath every morning, wherein he spent an hour of reading and writing whilst totally nude. An interesting take on radical transparency, is it not?

2) Beethoven lived for caffeine

The New Yorker has reported on how caffeine cramps your creativity–though Beethoven never heard such a thing. The composer opted for 60 beans per cup for his morning coffee, Green notes. Perhaps this was the cause of his later decomposition.

3) Christie worked everywhere

Mystery maven Agatha Christie, whose And Then There Were None freaked Fast Company out back in high school English, had a writerly sort of wanderlust: As Green reports, the ultra-prolific author (80 novels, 19 plays, etc.) never owned a desk. She wrote everywhere else.

4) Angelou is a hotel monastic

Maya Angelou once said that she could write a poem about anything she saw outside her window–and that sensitivity is perhaps why she cloisters herself in the most beige of surroundings: the universalized nondescriptness of the modern hotel room.

5) Wright worked in his head

While it doesn’t look like work in the same way as meaningless meetings do, some people prefer to think about their projects before setting out to work. Einstein was one. Genius architect Frank Lloyd Wright was the same: He wouldn’t start sketching anything until he worked out the entire design in his head. Maybe this was also because he was a megalomaniac.


6) Stephen King does it every damn day

Productivity requires discipline. Discipline is creating the situation. Stephen King creates the situation to be profusely productive: He writes nearly 2,000 words every day. For more on his method, read his On Writing, which will light a fire under your keyboard.

7) Franzen finds focus

Novelist Jonathan Franzen fetches a lot of hate. Related: He writes great novels about how weird it is to be a Midwesterner in the world: The Corrections and Freedom rend hearts, open eyes, and curdle blood.

Part of being a weird Midwesterner is an inheritance of religiosity, which seeps its way into work styles. Such as how Franzen pushes out any potential of distraction: While writing The Corrections, the Illinois-born author typed at his computer while wearing “earplugs, earmuffs, and a blindfold,” Green writes.

Hat tip: Mental Floss

[Image: Flickr user Charles Dyer]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.