Take a Cue From Charles Darwin: Work Way Fewer Hours

You wouldn't call the writer of one of the most influential books in human history a slacker. But you could argue that's what Charles Darwin was. (Relative to today, anyway.) While modern full-time workers are averaging 47 hours per week, ol' Darwin capped it at 15. Work smarter, not harder, y'all.

Long Day?

If he took his daily work routine to the modern office space, Charles Darwin would probably get the boot before the end of his three-month probationary period. Unless, of course, his boss was cool with a three-hour workday.

According to Mason Currey's "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work," Darwin's everyday routine went like this: He would take a long walk (he was very serious about his walks) and eat breakfast before 8 a.m. Then, he worked for 90 straight minutes in the study, occasionally allowing distraction from the snuff jar in the hallway. Next, he'd meet his wife, Emma, with the mail. After going through his letters, he'd lie on the couch and have Emma read the family letters aloud. Then she'd read aloud a novel the couple was working through together.

At 10:30 a.m., Darwin would head back to the study and work until noon or so. At this point, the remainder of his day would basically be work-free — more walks with his fox terrier, writing letters, reading the newspaper, more storytime with Emma, and eating meals. He'd tie up any remaining work between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. Aaaaand that's how to write "On the Origin of Species" and change the history of the world.

Darwin wasn't the only important thinker with a wide-open schedule. Mark Twain only put in about four hours a day. And, according to Quartz, so did this laundry list of geniuses: authors Alice Munro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, W. Somerset Maugham, Anthony Trollope, and Peter Carey; scientist John Lubbock; director Ingmar Bergman; artist Arthur Koestler; and mathematicians Henri Poincaré and G.H. Hardy.

Charles Darwin

You Work Too Much

While this routine seems like it'd provide good reason for swift job termination (still gotta get that paycheck, after all), there are important takeaways to learn from Darwin. It's not so much about working less as it is about working with supreme focus. While being busy and working long hours are modern status symbols, they're not great for your work or your health. Working beyond a 40-hour workweek (sound familiar?) will royally screw you over in the long run. According to research, all this bad stuff is silently at play when you spent long hours at the office, as compiled by Inc.:

  • Working more than 10 hours a day is associated with a 60 percent jump in risk of cardiovascular issues.
  • 10 percent of those working 50 to 60 hours report relationship problems; the rate increases to 30 percent for those working more than 60 hours.
  • Working more than 40 hours a week is associated with increased alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as unhealthy weight gain in men and depression in women.
  • Little productive work occurs after 50 hours per week.

But don't work less just to work less. In the 1950s, Illinois Institute of Technology psychology professors Raymond Van Zelst and Willard Kerr surveyed their colleagues and came up with some interesting results: Scientists who spent 25 hours per week in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five. Scientists working 35 hours a week were half as productive as their 20-hour-a-week colleagues, while workers who put in 60 hours or more were the least productive of all. Convinced yet?

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For more on this philosophy, check out "Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less" by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto September 16, 2017

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