Thomas Jefferson Was Productive, But Not Nearly as Productive as He Could’ve Been: Here are 5 Reasons Why

Jefferson’s mansion of productivity.

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, was the first secretary of state, and the president who bought a million acres. He was, no doubt, a productive man. There’s a lot to learn from him.

But the best lessons aren’t just things to emulate, they are things to avoid too.

So here we go.

Jefferson neglected the short term world.

As I’ve written about at length, long term productivity requires balancing the short term world’s obligations alongside our greatest ambitions. This includes day-to-day things like paying bills.

When Jefferson died, he was 2.4 million in debt.

The details (like paying bills) become the big things if we let them.

Jefferson had no boundary between work and life. Literally.

This is a picture of Jefferson’s bed, located directly between his office and living quarters:

Credit: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Jefferson has this amazing, almost beyond-imagination mansion/palace, and he can’t set aside a quiet part of the house for his work?

Enough said.

Jefferson puts modern self-quantifiers to shame.

Jefferson wrote down and measured everything. Everything. In some ways, this is a good thing. In other ways, this might be a little much:

Personally, I think a qualitative approach is better. What would Jefferson have discovered if he dug deep instead of playing with numbers?

Jefferson had a strange relationship with delegating tasks.

It is sometimes good and efficient to delegate a task. Yet Jefferson says:

Never trouble another with what you can do yourself.

Also, this is a terrible quote for someone who owned several slaves. Since he considered human beings his property, does “yourself” in the above quote refer to his slaves too? Any way you slice it, this is a gaping hole in any argument that Jefferson was a god of productivity.

Jefferson hustled for the sake of hustling.

Jefferson was one of the many people who said:

Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today.

But… that’s not true. Sometimes it makes perfect, long term sense to put something off.

Good day-to-day planning is good long term planning.


(Although Jefferson does not make an appearance in my book, this is an example of my productivity theories applied to a real-world person.)