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Unusual and Curious Productivity Hacks from Historical Figures

Because sometimes one has to think like a crazy person to deliver genius work.

I decided to write this post because recently I started to think again about that instastory about Mark Wahlberg’s daily routine. The post itself looked like a mere description of what he did throughout his normal day. However, under the further inspection of said post, you would find an insane schedule that, according to him, worked great with his crazy lifestyle. He had time (and somehow motivation) to do everything that was on that list. I remember after that post became viral, youtube was filled with videos of people trying to follow this exact routine.

This is not a blogpost about me attempting to follow that routine. Not even close. I did recently found myself wanting to change my daily routine, hence why that post came to mind at the time. And it got me thinking about what other crazy productivity methods did other famous people had throughout history. Maybe if I learned what certain visionaries did, I could embrace that mindset and do a few crazy things myself.

So this post is not to encourage you to follow any of these. Because let’s face it, most of these are a little unusual and probably wouldn’t work for the common human. But that’s fine. These are not tips and tricks. It’s a blog post that tries to show you some of the insane ways I found historical figures went through to get their work done. And who knows? Maybe this will help you get a little creative next time you need the right motivation to work.

#1 Force Yourself To Stay Focused

The Greek orator Demosthenes would force himself to stay focused on composing his orations by shaving half of his hair off. He would be too ashamed of his looks that he wouldn’t want to leave his house. This crazy method would force him to stay home, in isolation for months, and just keep practicing.

Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, would do something similar in order to avoid distractions and force himself to write. Hugo would simply take all his clothes off and lock himself in his room to write. He would ask his servants to hide his clothes and only give them back after reaching his writing goal for the day.

Playwright Henrik Ibsen, on the other hand, had a very different approach to gain motivation. His desk would be decorated with a portrait of fellow playwright August Strindberg, his competition at the time. Having his arch-rival staring at him while he worked certainly helped to get the job done.

#2 It’s All About The Routine

Philosopher Michael Foucault, Beethoven, and Winston Churchill all only worked on their craft between sunrise to early afternoon. And American author Tom Robbins would only write for 3 hours every day. Being productive doesn’t necessarily mean for you to work intensively throughout the entire day, get as much done as possible. For these people, the key to productivity lied on consistency, and the ability to restrain yourself and work vigorously only during a certain time period every day.

Ben Franklin had a daily set-up followed by a night-recap. He would begin his day by asking “What good shall I do today?”; while at night, he would instead make the question “What good have I done today?”. He would write his thoughts for each day and reflect on them for the next day. This journaling habit would help him stay on track and productive.

For the author Agatha Christie, her approach to be productive was rather simple: write everywhere. She managed to write 80 novels and various other works, by forcing herself to write every time she wasn’t sitting down.

#3 Get That Creative Boost

A couple of historical icons did some unusual things when they needed to regain their focus and get their creativity back. Composer Igor Stravinsky would stand on his head every time he had a “creative block”. And Benjamin Franklin (once again!) would read and write every morning naked with the window open in order to feel inspired.

For a more recent example, we have Bill Gates that is said to, ever since college, to rock in his chair when he needs to disconnect and focus. Hard to imagine a billionaire just rocking on his chair…

#4 Let’s Get Physical

We all know that physical exercise can help you clear your mind and give you energy. However, a few successful people took exercise routine to a rather eccentric route, just like our friend Wahlberg. For example, Tim Cook wakes up every day at 3:30 a.m. to work out before going to work. Simon Cowell has a ritual of climbing a tree every day to have a bonding time with nature. Inventor Nikola Tesla would flex his toes 100 times before bed because he believed that would help exercise his brain. And finally, while studying at Oxford University, Oscar Wilde would go for walks with his lobster on a leash — I guess walking your pet is healthy?

#5 Minimal Fashion Is Where Is At

I think this one most of us are aware, I’m sure it’s something a lot of us know already and maybe are even try to adapt. Steve Jobs was always seen wearing his iconic outfit: a black turtleneck with jeans and sneakers. Mark Zuckerberg also tends to have the same outfit every day of a grey t-shirt with a black hoodie. Even Albert Einstein had similar variations of a grey suit in this closet. These people chose to wear the same look every day to simplify their lives, and to avoid decision fatigue. Since all of them had/have to make dozens of important decisions a day, they took a minimal fashion approach so to not get the brain tired and decline in productivity.


As you learn today, there are multiples ways to be productive, some more eccentric than others. So don’t feel too pressure if most of the tricks and tips you read out there don’t work for you. Different things work for different people. Everyone is unique, and they should be able to find that thing that makes them motivated and productive. Even if it is climbing a tree.


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