There’s a few books I read every morning, on repeat. One of them, Daily Rituals, details the everyday working lives of famous writers, painters, composers, and other well-known figures.
I was reading about Charles Darwin earlier this week, and the author of this article has a book that’s sitting waiting for me to read back at home:
Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work. The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest “working” hours.
The author also references John Lubbock who was, apparently, one of the best-known authors of his time:
So despite their differences in personality and the different quality of their achievements, both Darwin and Lubbock managed something that seems increasingly alien today. Their lives were full and memorable, their work was prodigious, and yet their days are also filled with downtime.
This looks like a contradiction, or a balance that’s beyond the reach of most of us. It’s not.
I’ve often sais that four hours of focused knowledge work is the maximum every day. Factor in emails, meetings, and admin, and the daily routine of figures such as Darwin’s seems abiut right.