The Daily Habits of Great Minds: Lessons From Nietzsche, Kant, Tesla, Darwin, Einstein And Hemingway

People with stable routines are generally more efficient, happier, healthier, and less stressful

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Illustration: Ian Courter

Great Minds Stick To A Predictable And Stable Routine

Extraordinary minds start their day on purpose.

“Decide what you want or ought to do with the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”

A lot of highly productive philosophers and creative minds depend on predictable daily routines as a safe place for work.

“With a Spartan rigour which never ceased to amaze his landlord-grocer, Nietzsche would get up every morning when the faintly dawning sky was still grey, and….work uninterruptedly until eleven in the morning.”

“He then went for a brisk, two-hour walk through the nearby forest or along the edge of Lake Silvaplana (to the north-east) or of Lake Sils (to the south-west), stopping every now and then to jot down his latest thoughts in the notebook he always carried with him.”

And Nietzsche worked — a lot. He used almost the same routine to focus on writing, reading and understanding ideas. His schedule was disciplined, consistent, but a lot of wandering and thinking.

“He got up at 5:00 A.M. His servant Martin Lampe, who worked for him from at least 1762 until 1802, would wake him. The old soldier was under orders to be persistent, so that Kant would not sleep longer. Kant was proud that he never got up even half an hour late, even though he found it hard to get up early. It appears that during his early years, he did sleep in at times. After getting up, Kant would drink one or two cups of tea–weak tea. With that, he smoked a pipe of tobacco. The time he needed for smoking it “was devoted to meditation.”

“His lectures began at 7:00, and they would last until 11:00. With the lectures finished, he worked again on his writings until lunch. Go out to lunch, take a walk, and spend the rest of the afternoon with his friend Green. After going home, he would do some more light work and read.”

A life without a daily routine or structure is so much more draining mentally, physically, and emotionally than you can ever imagine!

Benjamin Franklin asked himself each morning (at 5 am), “What good shall I do today?”; every night before bed (around 10 pm), “What good have I done to-day?”.

He used this habit to help him focus on his most important priorities. What’s your answer to the question What good shall I do today?

Ernest Hemingway tracked his daily word output on a chart “so as not to kid myself” he said.

Not only do routines and rituals allow you to do more, but, as with all daily structures, they simply give your life more rhythm, order and even pleasure.

“As a young apprentice in Thomas Edison’s New York office, Tesla regularly worked from 10:30 in the morning until 5:00 the following morning,” writes Curry.

History’s great minds knew the relevance of stepping away from work every now and then to think, make better connections and ponder over existing problems.

Einstein apparently slept contentedly for up to 10 hours a night, on top of which he’d take several naps during the day.

Modern life, increasingly defined by unpredictability can be stressful. A productive routine can provide the anchor of predictability you need to function at your best. Pablo Picasso once said:

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

History’s greatest minds optimised their daily lives to get on top of their games. Routine was their secret weapon. Daily routines help us make time for what matters most to us.

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