This was a fun read (hat tip to my coworker, Eugene Federenko). The article covers the working habits of several well known thinkers from years past, and also digs in to the psychology and research that supports their tendencies. I came away from the post feeling like it was a page out of Deep Work.

But it is good to remind ourselves of some of these truths. And I love it when I am able to read about people like Darwin or Hemingway and get an accurate picture of their days, if only to compare it with my own. Like them, I feel I only have a good 4–5 hours of output in me on any given day. However, the contrast between the rest of their day(s) and my own, or our culture at large, is stark.

Where as they spent the rest of their time in healthy pursuits like walking, napping, or conversing with family and friends, we spend several more hours in our chairs, in front of the screen. Oh, they had their busy work, replying to correspondence and things of that nature. But reading articles like this leaves me with a sense that this time was … less frenetic than what we experience today. I would wager that they certainly experienced far less stimulation than we do now.

Even working for a company where focus is valued and time away from work is highly encouraged, I still struggle with the idea that 4–5 hours of my best work is better than x amount of time in chair. Silly, but true.

There was one other aspect to this article that had me thinking. These people experienced lives of privilege: not everyone has the opportunity to structure their days like this. Not then and not now. While Darwin enjoyed his afternoon nap after a morning of mental exertion, were the servants in his household doing the same? Likely not.

5 hours a day or 8, we’re very blessed to be thinking about these things. That’s something to keep in mind at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon when I don’t feel energized to do any hard work.