The Daily Routines Of 26 Of History's Most Creative Minds

10 p.m. to 7 a.m.: Sleep. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Be a genius.

Even Beethoven and Balzac had just 24 hours in a day. How did history's most prolific minds schedule their greatness? Based on research from Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (which we covered previously here), a new interactive infographic by creative marketing agency Distilled offers us mere mortals insight into the daily routines of 26 famous artists, writers, composers, and thinkers. Organized from earliest to latest risers, the visualization reveals hours spent sleeping, eating, working, bathing, socializing, and exercising (good news for the lazy: most of these greats preferred casual strolls to pumping iron).


Perhaps what stands out most is how few of these creative people had good old-fashioned day jobs. Writer Franz Kafka was the only one in this group who had a profession unrelated to his creative field: he was, famously and miserably, a bureaucrat at the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute in the Kingdom of Bohemia (not as cool as it sounds). Philosopher Immanuel Kant lectured at a university in the mornings, American writer Kurt Vonnegut taught at a school, composer Wolfgang Mozart gave music lessons here and there, and Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, treated patients. But the rest spent virtually all their waking hours--in some cases, hours most people spend sleeping--devoted to their creative and intellectual work.

The infographic is accompanied by the subjects' thoughts on productivity. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami likens his strict daily routine, which involves writing from 4 a.m. to noon, to a form of mesmerism, while Pablo Picasso is quoted as having said, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

The graphic suggests there may be other routes besides vigorous action, actually--the award for Most Leisure Time goes to Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor, who sandwiched three to four hours of writing a day between church-going and obsessively tending to her peacocks, among other hobbies. Peacock-raising wasn’t the strangest obsession in the bunch, though: that would be French writer Victor Hugo’s habit of taking an ice bath on his roof every morning. There's one productivity tip we've yet to try out.

To play around with the full interactive infographic, go here.

[Image: Kurt Vonnegut, Maya Angelou via Shutterstock, Haruki Murakami]

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14 Comments

  • heatherabrown1961

    This group (by the very fact that we have heard of them), is a subset. ie not just creative minds but those who turned their creative thoughts into a finished product. So this tells us more about the habits that turn creativity into successful output, not necessarily the habits that engender creativity per se. There may be lots of examples of completely different habits that produce startling creativity but all these people left behind was a boxful of scribbles that were put on a bonfire after they died. They were creative but lacked the second element of creative sucess which is the drive to complete.

  • a7632070

    What is the source of this data? For how long does a person can stick to such a routine? This 'daily routine' seems more like a fairy tale not really plausible.

  • kontakt

    Great work. Nice to see whom I might follow with my own timetable What I realy miss: NO creative honourful women listed... where is Hildegard von Bingen, Virginia Woolf, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo e.g.? Would be great to have them added or, much better, you might have an idea to do it again with some of them? Will be a pleasure to spred it again than.

  • kontakt

    Great work. Nice to see whom I might follow with my own timetable What I realy miss: NO creative honourful women listed... where is Hildegard von Bingen, Virginia Woolf, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo e.g.? Would be great to have them added or, much better, you might have an idea to do it again with some of them? Will be a pleasure to spred it again than.

  • stu

    Great to see these mapped out visually. Proves that mixing up intense work periods with defocussed breaks and exercise really is the way to get your brain incubating those big thoughts. I especially relate to Darwin's pattern. Good work, team!