Stephen Wolfram’s Personal Information Ecosystem

Some people manage to get more done than the rest of us. These folks are constrained by the same 24-hour days you and I are, but use them more effectively. How do they do it? What can we learn from them so we, too, can be more productive? I’m always excited when a super-productive person gives us a glimpse into their methods. (So much so that I’ve started a podcast to elicit stories about people’s setups.)

Recently, Stephen Wolfram published a lengthy article that explains how he’s configured his personal information ecosystem to help him be more productive. Mr. Wolfram is a world-renowned computer scientist. He’s the creator of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language — among other things — and the author of A New Kind of Science. Besides being a rigorous scientist and scholar, he’s also a successful entrepreneur: his company, Wolfram Research, has been going strong for the past 31 years. He’s a textbook example of a super-productive person, and someone I’ve looked up to for a long time.

Mr. Wolfram’s blog post is a real treat. It covers everything from his software and hardware choices to the ways he’s configured his physical environments to help him get things done. As the CEO of a software company, some of Mr. Wolfram’s software choices are particular to his job (i.e., he uses his company’s software for much of his work.) However, there are also many insights in the post that apply to anyone who needs to work with computers. The core insight is simple:

At an intellectual level, the key to building this infrastructure is to structure, streamline and automate everything as much as possible—while recognizing both what’s realistic with current technology, and what fits with me personally.

I’m particularly impressed (though not surprised) by Mr. Wolfram’s long-term approach to information processing. Some aspects of his ecosystem (including his approach to file storage — both physical and digital) have evolved over three decades. He also mentions some intriguing products, including a pair of glasses that have helped him conquer motion sickness when working in the back of cars. (A problem I deal with more often than I’d like.)

This is a long read, but an inspiring one. Well worth your time.

Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure