Walk in the door. Hang up jacket and put on cozy, hand-knit cardigan. Swap loafers for canvas sneakers.

Ever since we were children, our brains have thrived on ritual and routine. And while it’s easy to assume that creative thinkers and visionaries eschew predictability and find inspiration in the unexpected, following an established daily routine is what has allowed many of the most famous innovative thinkers in history to tap their creative potential. 

From mid-day ice baths to counting out exactly 60 beans for a morning cup of coffee, read on for the fascinating daily routines of history’s famous minds — plus the most common practices to steal for your own daily habits. 

Daily Routines of Famous Artists, Authors, and Entrepreneurs

Victor Hugo

“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labour and there is an invisible labour.” 

6 AM: Wake up to coffee and two raw eggs

6:30-11 AM: Writing

11 AM-Noon: Ice bath on the roof

Noon-1 PM: Lunch and socializing with guests

1-3 PM: Vigorous exercise

3-4 PM: Go to the barber

4-6 PM: Spend time with mistress

6-8 PM: Writing

8-10 PM: Dinner, cards, out with friends

10 PM: Go to sleep

Stephen King

“It’s not any different than a bedtime routine. Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on?” 

8 AM: Wake up, make a cup of tea, and take a daily vitamin

8:30 AM-between 11:30 and 1:30 PM: Write 2,000 words, however long that takes. Writing desk and environment should stay exactly the same, even piles of papers kept in the same spot. (For King, this consistency signals his brain that it's time for creative work.)

1:30 PM-End of day: Free to nap, write letters, read, spend time with family, and watch Red Sox games. 

Pablo Picasso

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” 

11 AM-3 PM: Wake up, have breakfast, and spend time with friends

3 PM-11 PM: Paint

11 PM-Midnight: Eat dinner

Midnight-2:30 AM: Paint

2:30 AM: Go to bed

Ludwig Van Beethoven

“There are no barriers for a person with talent and love towards work.” 

6 AM-6:30: Wake up and make a cup of coffee, measuring exactly 60 beans

6:30 AM-2: 30 PM: Compose music at desk, with periodic breaks to walk outside

2:30-3:30 PM: Break for dinner and wine

3:30-4:30 PM: Take a long walk 

4:30-9:30 PM: Go out to the tavern to eat and read the newspaper

9:30 PM: Bed

Steve Jobs

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

6 AM: Wake up and log in to computer to start work

7-8 AM: Have breakfast with kids

8-9 AM: Head in to work 

9 AM-Noon: In-person meetings with Apple's product, management, and marketing teams

Noon-End of workday: Spend time in the Apple design lab

Evenings: Dinner and family time 

Fred Rogers

The number 143 means 'I love you.' It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three. 'I love you.' Isn't that wonderful?”

5:30 AM: Wake up to read, study, write, pray, and respond to letters from fans

Morning: Daily weigh in (a steady 143 pounds, every day) and swim 

Afternoon: Work, take break to nap

9:30 PM: Bed

Elon Musk

"Tip #1: Work super hard."

7 AM: Wake up, make coffee, and head in to work

10 AM: Morning phone calls

10:45 AM: Engineering team meeting

12:30 PM: Propulsion scheduled meeting

1 PM: Eat lunch during meetings

1:30 PM: Work, include a daily walk of the SpaceX factory floor

7 PM: Interviews and events

1 AM: Bed

Common Practices to Apply to Your Own Daily Routine

1. Get Up Early 

Examine the daily routines of history's most prolific minds and you'll see it time and again: early to bed, early to rise. For many great minds, the secret to productivity appears to lie between the hours of 4 and 8 AM. As Frank Lloyd Wright says, "I wake up around 4 AM and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap." Plus, science shows that your willpower is highest early in the morning. So take advantage of the unique mental clarity and relative calm of the pre-dawn hours to focus on deep creative work and get your most important work done. 

2. Break a sweat

Along with rising early, daily exercise is another practice embraced by the vast majority of famous innovators. Whether it’s John Milton walking his gardens for three hours every day, Charles Dickens walking 20 to 30 miles around London each afternoon, or Peter Tchaikovsky’s daily two hour walk, many of history’s geniuses found a lengthy walk essential to both their physical and mental health. Studies have shown time and again how regular exercise boosts alertness, energy, productivity, creativity, and mental focus. 

3. Stick to a schedule 

Novelist Haruki Murakami compares the repetition of his daily routine to hypnotism: “I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; its a form a mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” 

Whether it’s Steve Jobs wearing the same black turtleneck every day or chef Bobby Flay eating greek yogurt with fruit for breakfast every morning, following the same patterns can trigger the mental flow state that is the key to creative productivity. As Stephen King says, "The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon."

4. Take lots of breaks

Start looking into the daily routines of famous artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and inventors and you'll quickly notice that nearly all of them do creative work in bursts throughout the day, taking several breaks to enjoy a leisurely meal, spend time with family and friends, and explore the world. Not only do regular breaks keep your brain from burning out, new experiences and distractions feed creative thinking.

5. Caffeinate 

Drink your coffee (or tea)! Beethoven counted out 60 beans for his daily cup, Kierkegaard started every day by pouring black coffee over a cupful of sugar, and Balzac drank up to 50 cups a day. While you may not want to go quite that far (Balzac did die of heart failure at only 51, after all, and too much caffeine can interfere with sleep and make you too jittery to focus), a moderate amount of caffeine boosts energy, improves cognitive performance, and improves short-term memory, problem solving, and concentration. As any creative knows, 90% of the job is showing up and putting pen to paper. For many inventive minds, caffeine is the key to doing just that. 

Simple Ways to Inject Your Day with Greater Creativity and Productivity 

Of course, there's no one "right way" to structure your day for better mental performance, but experimenting with the above techniques to find what works for you — and then sticking with your ideal daily routine — can unlock improved focus, creativity, and productivity. Share your preferred rituals and routines with us in the comments below so we can try them out ourselves!

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Sources: TheGuardian.com, Litreactor.com, Marksdailyapple.com, Entrepreneur.com, 99u.com, Onlinecollege.org, Podio.com

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