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It's a chilly day in February 1877 and Theodore Roosevelt, a freshman at Harvard, is busy. Very, very busy. He wakes up at 7:30 and breakfast with "hot biscuits, toast, chops or beef steak and buckwheat cake."
After breakfast he examines notes from his lessons ̵
At 10 o'clock in the morning, he is busy digging around in his mail, checking the letters of the day and possibly cutting off some quick-fire answers.
He goes to the Latin recitation from 11am to 12pm before moving to the gym for an upcoming boxing match in the lightweight division at Harvard.
Next lunch, where there is a "free fight" that sends a fellow student under the table, leading to the impending expulsion of Mrs. Morgan.  After lunch, more is learned and recited until late in the afternoon.
In the evening he dines with a gentleman and a wife Tudor and later writes that he had "a very pleasant time at home".
Mental Floss and iHeartRadio are History Vs., a podcast about how your favorite historical characters beat their biggest enemies. I'm your host, Erin McCarthy, and this week's episode is TR versus Time.
Roosevelt once said, "I've already lived and enjoyed as much as nine other men I know." And it's true – it's true. It's hard to imagine another person who has done so much like TR, although she has worked with her like us all 24 hours a day.
Cal Newport: That's the crazy thing. The busiest job you can imagine is being President of the United States, and even in this job he felt like he had too much downtime.
This is Cal Newport, author of the books Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Loud World and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World . For the first time, he read in Edmund Morris' book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
about TR's achievement acts because he was too weak to go to regular school, but he thrived on the family's rigorous schedule Dresden, with whom he lived in Germany in 1873 for five months.
Maybe this time it was in Germany that triggered TR's lifelong obsession with a timetable. Every day he got up at 6:30 am, had breakfast until 7:30 am and then learned until 12:30. Then he had lunch, learned until 3 o'clock and had free time until 7 o'clock. After that he learned until 10 o'clock and then went to bed. He wrote to his father, "It's harder than ever in my life, but I like it because I really feel I'm making considerable progress."
When he had to take time off after that As an asthma attack, he insisted that his teachers make an extra effort to make up for what he had missed. When he was fifteen years old, the Roosevelts returned to the US and TR contacted another tutor, this time with an ambitious goal: to come to Harvard in the fall of 1876, which meant passing the entrance exams in the summer of 1975. 19659003] Roosevelt had a year and a half to squeeze in, and he learned six to eight hours a day. His tutor Arthur Cutler later wrote: "The young man never seemed to know what idleness is."
According to author David McCullough, Roosevelt graduated from what would normally take three years and passed his preliminary Harvard entrance exams July 1875.
TR was as busy at Harvard, where he lived in a boarding house off campus, as the dorms were not considered ideal for his asthma.
He joined a number of clubs: He wrote in his journal that he was "librarian of Porcellian, secretary of the pudding, treasurer of the OK, vice president of the Natural History Soc., President of the ADQ [and] editor of the lawyer , "He was also a member of the Glee Club, although he did not sing, he taught Sunday school, he took dance lessons, but he avoided going to the theater because" I do not care and it could hurt my eyes. " He read continuously at a rate of two to three pages per minute. He punched and wrestled and wandered. He campaigned for the ladies and led an active social life. He studied as much as 36 hours a week. And in between, he found time to write two works on ornithology and begin a book that would later appear on every naval ship. The Sea War of 1812 a classmate, TR was "always with him".
Cal: This is someone who raises productivity issues to a new level.
According to Morris, TR had become a habit through "iron self-discipline." He spent only a quarter of the day at his desk, but he concentrated so hard and read as quickly as he could take more liberty than most But his spare time was not as relaxing either.It was full of activities .
Newport was so inspired by Morris' description of the productivity of TR that he was Roosevelt in Deep Work Cal: There are really two factors to his productivity.An idea that I have written about more recently, including Digital Minimalism is his belief that doing better This is an interesting idea Many people, especially today in a world of mild distraction, think what they really need is only time when they have nothing to do Just sit there and watch Netflix while wiping your phone and just dive into passive distraction. They need this to recharge. They are exhausted. But TR comes from that other mindset, which says that you're almost always better off when you recharge your satisfaction, do things, things of high quality, hard things all the time. They could do hard things or sleep, and that was it's.
For the thinkers of the late 19th century and the early 20th century, this is a common idea that you always act when quality is better at stopping you than trying to switch between them kind of purely passive calm and action. So I like that. But the other element is that he really believed in this formula that I've been writing about for years. What you produce is a function of time that you spend with your intensity of concentration. And TR's hack was, "Let me set the intensity of the focus part of this equation as high as possible, and if I can do that, I can really minimize the time I spend on it and do a lot of things." "
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Morris wrote that Roosevelt was" planning with the methodology of a Wesleyan minister every day, "and there is no better example than a timetable for one While presidential candidate William McKinley remained largely away from the electoral campaign, vice presidential candidate Roosevelt crossed the country.
The timetable itself is evidence of its boundless energy, but also the statistics of that campaign season: Roosevelt, according to Morris By November, 673 speeches had been made in 567 cities across 24 states, traveling 21,209 miles and speaking an average of 20,000 words a day to 3 million people. "
One day on the track, his schedule looked like this:
- 7:00 Breakfast
- 7:30 am A speech
- 8:00 am Reading a historical work
- 9:00 am e Speech
- 10:00 am Dictation of letters
- 11:00 am Discussion of Montana mines
- 11:30 am A speech
- 12:00 pm Reading of an ornithological work
- 12:30 Watch A Speech
- 1:00 pm Lunch
- 1:30 pm A Speech
- 2:30 pm Reading [Scottish novelist] Sir Walter Scott
- 3:00 pm Answering Telegrams
- 3:45 pm A speech
- at 4:00 pm Meeting with the Press
- 4:30 pm Reading
- 5:00 pm A Speech
- 6:00 pm Reading
- 7:00 pm Dinner
- 8- 10 o'clock speaking
- 23:00 o'clock Alone reading in his [train] car
- 12 o'clock to bed
It is enough that you want to take a nap.
Erin: He had a long history in which he had really regimented these days. In your opinion, has that contributed to his ability to do much?
Cal: I think that absolutely did. Many people think, especially today, when they think about their personal productivity, in the form of tasks. Do you know what I want to do today? Where is my to-do list? Maybe I'll do the most important task of the day, choosing one thing that I really want to do.
But I notice time and time again that high achievers often repeat the Roosevelt approach: "I really want to give my attention", so if you look at a particular day, you do not create a to-do list. They block your hours. What do I do in this half hour? What do I do in these three hours? You have to pay so much attention in one day; you try to find the optimal allocation.
They also think about it at higher scales. What am I doing this week? Oh, Wednesday is the day I'll have a lot of downtime in the morning so I'm really going to focus on this project.
And so the idea of thinking about whatever I've got is – allocating 12 hours of attention in one day, some of these hours will have a higher intensity than others, depending on where they fall. How do I get the biggest return on this attention? "This is an incredibly powerful productivity hiccup, it's one that I preached and that influenced me in particular through the approach of TR.
We know that even in his spare time he did that, which I find interesting. When he's in Oyster Bay, when he's in his house on Long Island Sound, he has quite structured approaches: I row, I'll row over the sound, then we'll play those games with the cousins, then we will or whatever, even in his free time he devoted his attention.
Erin: How does TR compare to other highly productive or successful people in history?
Cal: So, as we said earlier, this manic energy that always has to do things, it has the mistrust of passive relaxation, which is quite common, I mean, you see, there are a lot of tops in the business world be provided. This is certainly a definite feature of, for example, Elon Musk or Bill Gates. These are people who had this uneasy drive. "I have to do something, I have to do something else, I do not trust passive time, I do not trust charging," I say, often to the detriment of her health.
This kind of something is common. Once you've reached a certain level of productivity, like running two companies at the same time, or if you run the country at the same time you write books. So they come there. You can not get there without planning your time with great intention.
Roosevelt's level of activity did not abate when he was in the White House. This is best illustrated by a project by archivist Chloe Elder, who completed a remote lab at the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in North Dakota in the summer of 2017.
she would clock in and go through the material piece by piece and add metadata. Many of the documents Elder cataloged were letters written during Roosevelt's presidency.
Chloe: It's something to be dropped in the middle of someone's correspondence. It is immediate. It is often very intimate.
While working, Elder noticed a pattern.
Chloe: I saw this one kind of standard answer from TRs secretary. And it would be something like this: "Thank you for your letter or invitation, but President Roosevelt is far too busy to answer in person, or too busy to attend the event, to give a speech or to read your story that you presented to him. "And I just wanted to see how busy he was.
So she decided to create a calendar – something she could imagine what a week in President Roosevelt's life was like. She began to search the center's digitized archives and his desk diaries, which he ran every day. Finally, she focused on a week in which Roosevelt sat for a portrait of John Singer Sargent.
Chloe: TR posed after lunch for only half an hour a day, and it was apparently very hard to get him to sit still and not stay anywhere else.
Erin: Classic TR.
After collecting all the data and compiling the numbers, a picture was taken, and this picture was action packed . According to Elder's calendar, TR sometimes held up to eight sessions an hour, which meant that only 7.5 minutes would have passed with the same length.
But even for TR, life is not like that. & # 39; Fits well in such neat chunks.
Chloe: Some of the meetings look like they're really fast, they say, paying tribute. That sounds like a short introduction. But then there are other meetings, and you might be able to guess what was going on, if you look at what was happening politically at the time, or look at his letters. But much is still a mystery.
And in addition to his busy schedule, he sent letter after letter.
Chloe: How many letters did he write this week? I would have to count, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 … I mean, many letters this week. I have seen that he regularly wrote more letters than he received on any given day. In his lifetime he wrote over 150,000 letters.
Erin: I am not a President of the United States and I have trouble returning an e-mail.
This is probably a good place for a break. We will be right back.
In addition to his numerous meetings and his epic engagement for correspondence, TR read a book daily and and took time to take action.
Roosevelt played tennis, but was never photographed in his tennis white. He punched and when he could not do that, he picked up Jiu-Jitsu. He was swimming – naked – in the Potomac. And he regularly hauled diplomats into Rock Creek Park for a brisk walk or perhaps a cliff climb.
One such diplomat later recalled an excursion in the park: "He … let me fight through bushes and rocks for two hours and half at an impossible speed until I was so ready that I could barely stand. His great pleasure is climbing, which is my weak point. I'm completely embarrassed, and my arms and shoulders are still stiff when I pull myself up on roots and protrusions. At one point I was quite stuck and could not get over it until he grabbed me by the collar and pulled me to him … He talked almost everything to my great relief, because I was out of breath.
] After leaving the White House, TR's ability to do a lot in no time became apparent. His successor, William Howard Taft, complained, "I would give anything in the world if I had the opportunity to clear the job like Roosevelt." I want too. Me too.
Erin: I often say that TR only makes me very tired because it sounds like "how?"
Cal: So the key factor seems to be an internal motor that gives him so much energy that he has to do things all day, and I've never seen anyone stronger focused on as he. I am also in awe. I wish I had maybe 30 percent of his energy, I would probably be 200 percent more productive.
Erin: He did not have many of the distractions we have today. Do we think he would be like this? productive, for example, if he had a smartphone or the Internet?
Cal: I do not know. On the one hand, he clearly had this tremendous energy and a tremendous urge to do things intensively, and to produce things, he was perhaps a character who totally rejected "I do not need passive entertainment." I do not have to sit. That is not valuable enough. I do not want to sit here and twitter. I'd like to write a book, "right, so maybe he could have totally rejected it."
On the other hand, he was very curious and very fond of new information when you talk about the early 20th century. What could you do? They might have smart people in the White House, they could read books, they were naturally very concentrated activities, we could see a TR that was so fascinated by all those different rabbit holes that it could go down instead, the book on naval history to write, he would watch YouTube videos about node ties or similar.
And if the latter is true, how many potential TRs do we lose, at least in terms of productive performance, leadership and impact? Energy and curiosity: "I have to do things, I have to act, I have to produce things." That's more roaming and finely tuned than ever before in the story's pessimistic view – [that] we have lost potential TRs because of this.
But I do not know. I tend to think that he wants to produce. He wants to have big thoughts. He wants to produce interesting things. He wants to make big changes. He probably would not be a big Twitter user. I would guess that.
If you ask yourself, where Roosevelt has found the energy to do so much, could be an indication of his coffee consumption. He is said to have drunk up to a gallon of coffee a day, and according to his son Ted, his cup was less like a normal coffee cup and "more like a bathtub." He filled up to seven lumps of sugar in each cup as well.
But, according to Elder, this may not be Roosevelt's ultimate hack.
Erin: So, what do you think the rest of us can learn how to chart through TR's approach to his productive?
Chloe: Well, I would not recommend the gallon of coffee a day. But I think he found what worked for him and was very productive all the time. And he seemed to thrive in such an environment. TR was not used to sitting still for more than half an hour, and his MO just wanted to keep going and keep moving. And he was steadfast that way, and I think that really worked for him. Just to find out what works best and run with it.
And when Newport thinks about how we can all be a bit more like TR, he thinks of a quote from an interview that Steve Martin has with Charlie Rose.
Cal: Charlie Rose had asked him, "What do you advise prospective entertainers?" And Steve Martin said, "Well, the advice I give them is never what they want to hear, but the advice I give them is so good that you can not ignore it. If you do that, good things will come. "But I think TR really embodied that. He did not just want to do things; He wanted to do it really well. He always wanted to be so good that you could not ignore him. He has always endeavored to do things of a really high quality, which sounds obvious, but I think it's really different from many of our current instincts, especially in a world of attention-economy media and digital communication, where we also have this hectic one Having culture that is simply busy, right, lots of things to do. E-mail many people. Drink a lot of coffee. Do many things on social media. Just be a bit in the mix and crush it and bustle you and all that, and that will somehow become a success.
And I think TR was a counterpoint to what busyness means to nothing, nothing in itself means nothing. Things that you produce, things that you have sent and that are so good that it is difficult for people to ignore them, that is the basis for interesting effects. I love the way he embodied that. Busyness for the sake of bustle was no value. The intensity of things that were really important or could have a real impact was important to him. I think there is probably a lot to learn today.
History Vs. is hosted by me, Erin McCarthy.
This episode was written by me and reviewed by Austin Thompson.
The executive producers are Erin McCarthy, Julie Douglas and Tyler Klang.
The supervising producer is Dylan Fagan.
This show was edited by Dylan Fagan and Lowell Brillante.
Special thanks to Cal Newport and Chloe Elder.
For more information on this episode, see mentalfloss.com/historyvs.
History Vs. is a production of iHeartRadio and Mental Floss.