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Sleeping Habits and Productivity [Infographic]

By Midori Nediger, Feb 21, 2018

sleeping habits

We all want to be the best version of ourselves. More and more, I find myself examining the habits of highly successful people to see if there’s anything I can do to fine-tune my own daily routine.

Curious about the relationship between sleeping habits and productivity, I came across this beautiful visualization made by Giorgia Lupi and Accurat with Maria Popova at brainpickings.org.

sleeping habits

A snapshot of the original visualization from brainpickings.org

It takes a look at the lives of famous writers to explore the correlation between literary productivity and daily wakeup times.

It’s quite visually striking (featuring custom illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton), it really nails the emotional component of data visualization, and it’s perfect for looking at the habits of individual writers.

But I think it misses the mark if it’s trying to revealing any general correlation between sleeping habits and literary productivity.

I wonder… How could I redesign this visualization to shift the balance away from its focus on uniqueness and aesthetics and towards clarity? Can I make the relationship between sleeping habits and productivity habits any clearer?

Limitations of the original sleeping habits visualization

My main issue with the original visualization is the positioning of the ‘productivity’ bars. The bars are oriented radially, indicating each author’s wakeup time like a position on a clock:

sleeping habits

While clever, this means that when I want to compare the productivity of Honore de Balzac, for example, with that of Sylvia Plath, I need to do a lot of mental work. In my mind’s eye, I need to rotate each bar, shift them so they’re side by side, and then compare the length of the bars.

sleeping habits

This makes it difficult to compare more than two authors at a time, and is the main factor that prevents me from drawing any larger conclusions about correlations between sleeping habits and productivity.

Second, I’d like to take a look at the way lifespan is visualized. The original vis cleverly included bars sized by lifespan to provide a bit of context for each author’s productivity, but again, it’s hard to make comparisons between these bars and the productivity bars:

sleeping habits

I’d also like to revisit the encoding of awards won as overlapping ‘auras’. Currently, the visual difference between ‘Nobel + Pulitzer’, and ‘Nobel + Pulitzer + Other Prizes’ is pretty subtle:

sleeping habits

Redesigning for comparison

In my redesign, I kept the elements that were already really successful – the representation of publications as stacked lines (which look to me like books on a bookshelf) and the lifespan bars – and tried to make it easier to draw comparisons among them.

I lined up the stacked productivity bars and swapped the award ‘auras’ for stars:

sleeping habits

Scaled the lifespan bars so that one year matched the width of one publication:

sleeping habits

And grouped everything by wake time to create this final vis:

sleeping habits

I’ll be the first to admit that my redesign is not nearly as delicate and beautiful as the original, but I think it provides a more useful display of the sleeping habits and productivity of these writers.

Now it’s easier to compare lifespan with number of books published, and to compare early risers with late ones… It seems that those who rose earlier in the day won more awards, while those who rose a little later published more frequently.

Ultimately, what does this say about sleeping habits and writing productivity? Since this is all based on qualitative observation and a very small sample size, really very little. Maybe I should take a page from Ray Bradbury’s book, and just “Write every day… Then see what happens”.

Want to create your own visualization? Get started with this template:

sleeping habits



About Midori Nediger

Midori spreads visual communication tricks and tips as an Information Designer at Venngage. She’s particularly interested in helping people communicate complex information. Connect with her on LinkedIn and on Twitter @MNediger.

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