Lessons from the desks of famous people

The workspaces of Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Elon Musk and Oprah have plenty to teach us about organization, efficiency and how to strategically approach work.


Whether your desk is a chaotic mess or a hypertidy haven, you’re in good company.

National Pen has a motion infographic that describes the desks, strategies and work quirks of luminaries and legends, past and present.

Ernest Hemingway, for instance, was an early adopter of the standing desk, which the graphic says can boost productivity by 10 percent. Perhaps writing in a slightly uncomfortable position (he kept his typewriter on a bookshelf) was his secret to concise writing? Papa was certainly a perfectionist. As noted in the infographic, it took him 39 attempts to settle on the final words for “A Farewell to Arms.” He also kept a word count chart in his workspace, which usually clocked in between 450 and 1,250 words per day.

Similarly efficient—though probably less booze-fueled—is Elon Musk, who used to have a desk at the end of Tesla’s production line so he could scrutinize each vehicle. How does he manage working 100-hour weeks? Musk breaks his workday into five-minute chunks. He rarely takes lunch breaks. I’m sure his desk is immaculate, albeit festooned with fancy space tchotchkes.

The graphic also highlights Arianna Huffington, who touts naps, meditation and yoga to relieve workplace stress, as well as Albert Einstein, who was famous for his messy desk. He torched his clutter critics with this wonderful burn: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” The infographic also cites research from Northwestern University that found people in messy rooms were more adept at solving creative problems than Tidy Tinas. Take that, organized desk people.

Mark Zuckerberg also makes a statement with his desk. The Facebook boss doesn’t have an office; he has the same setup as rank-and-file employees amid the organization’s collaborative open floor plan.

Rounding out the list are Frida Kahlo, who filled her art studio with natural light and mementos from home to spur inspiration, and Oprah Winfrey, who spends very little time at her desk. She’s busy changing people’s lives with a wave of her hand.

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What does your workspace say about you? Review the infographic below for a bit of inspiration.

Desk Styles of the Rich and Genius - Infographic by National Pen

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