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Lessons from Charles Dickens on How to Be Productive

Small business owners are often searching for ways to be more productive. If you’re looking for tips on how to whittle down your to-do list faster, there’s no better source of inspiration than the creative geniuses who have made mankind great.


Live your life like a genius


Info We Trust recently unveiled an infographic detailing the daily lives of some of history’s most accomplished geniuses. It shows off some of their eccentric habits, like how Beethoven meticulously counted out 60 coffee beans each morning, or how Victor Hugo used a gunshot as his alarm clock.


More importantly, the infographic shows us the diligent routines that many creative greats followed in order to maximize their productivity. I want to take a detailed look at a day in the life of Charles Dickens and talk about the lessons we can learn from how he spent his time.


1. Get a good night's sleep

Portrait of Charles Dickens Portrait by Siegfried Woldhek

Charles Dickens slept from midnight until seven in the morning every day, which is not far off from the commonly-cited figure of eight hours a night.


Everyone has different sleep needs, but many of us try to get by with less than our bodies demand. Follow Dickens’ advice and sleep well every night—he ended up publishing more than twenty novels in his lifetime, so there was still plenty of time left for work.


If you’re having trouble figuring out how much sleep you need, a wearable tech device like UP from Jawbone can record your sleep cycles for you. With a gadget like this, it’s easy to know just how much of that essential REM sleep you’re actually getting.


2. Wake up naturally

Waking up at a set time became popular during the Industrial Revolution, when hired men called Knocker-ups would pound on windows with long sticks at a requested time each morning.


If you wake up groggy to the sound of a cell phone ringtone at the same time each morning, this is likely doing your body a disservice. Waking up according to your body’s natural rhythm is a great foundation for a productive day.


If you need a little help getting up at the right time, try an app like Sleep Cycle, which analyzes your sleeping patterns and wakes you up when you’re in the lightest stage of sleep.


Unfortunately, most people’s schedules don’t allow them to wake up whenever they feel like it. That’s why I recommend giving yourself an hour, like Dickens did, so that you have a little leeway to wake up naturally without being late for work.


3. Eat a healthy breakfast

Dickens also dedicated an hour each morning just to eat his breakfast. Many writers say that they’re able to do their best work after giving their subconscious some time to chew on different ideas. By turning off your phone and relaxing during breakfast, you’ll be making the rest of the work you do throughout the day way more productive.


One side tip: You can make mealtimes less stressful by planning your meals in advance.


4. Work during your most productive hours

While some people are night owls, the majority of us work best in the mornings, when we’re refreshed from a good night’s sleep. Dickens was a morning person, working from nine to two every day, sequestered in his study “in absolute quiet.”


Just like Dickens, it’s important to block out a specific time just for work and also to determine the environment in which you work best in order to maximize productivity.


For time blocking, simply marking off a few hours in a calendar goes a long way. Productive people have told me that they set aside time for work and tell themselves, “I don’t have to work during that time, but I can’t do anything else.” If the choice is between work and boredom, most people will choose to work.


Close the door, turn off email, and get started with a small task to build up momentum.


5. Exercise, exercise, exercise

Only one in three American adults get the recommended amount of weekly exercise. While you probably can’t take three hours out of your day to exercise like Dickens did, you can likely spare at least 30 minutes daily for a brisk walk or light jog.


The increased blood flow and endorphins can give you much more energy than any cup of coffee could and, in fact, one writer even found that his overall cognitive performance improved 12% after exercising but only 6% after a cup of coffee.


Need some more motivation? Try GymPact, an app that gets you to pay up if you don’t work out.


6. Take breaks from your work

One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to work all the time, but taking breaks has actually been shown to improve both focus and productivity. That means you’ll spend less time working and get more done.


Dickens not only took a full hour for dinner, he also dedicated five hours after dinner to friends and family. That down time allowed his brain to rest, so he was ready to go the next day.


Time doesn’t have to be something you wish you had more of. Greater productivity is attainable with just a few small changes to your daily routine. Are you ready to give it a shot, Dickens style?


Let me know if you have other useful advice to share in the comments section.


Aeramis Fularon

Aeramis Fularon

Customer Support Geek at Jimdo


As a Customer Support Geek, Aeramis strives to help Jimdo's customers by sharing her web expertise. She is a talented graphic designer, and she works on a number of web projects in her free time. When she isn't answering your questions about Jimdo, Aeramis loves to travel and eat good food.