Churchill lived in a less frantic time, before the existence of management consultants and efficiency experts. He would have laughed off the idea of reading popular books on time management or efficiency. However, in his life, he wrote 52 books, served in Parliament, served as First Lord of the Admiralty, Home Secretary, was prime minister twice, and umm… saved the Free World. Not too shabby for someone who had a reputation as a hard drinker and joked that he resembled that his chubby face and figure resembled that of a baby!
What was his secret? Aside from being incredibly brilliant and born into nobility (his father Randolph, was the younger son of the Duke of Marlborough), Churchill had a routine that enabled him to be incredibly productive. Will it work for you?
Churchill began his day each day at 8:00 a.m. by being awakened by a manservant. These aren’t cheap, but an alarm clock serves as a nice alternative. He would have breakfast in bed accompanied by a glass of sweet German wine, like Piesporter Michelsburg or Johannisberg Riesling. (I don’t like sweet wines, but if you imagine you are drinking grape juice it makes it more palatable). He would then read and respond to correspondence, read the papers and generally handle affairs of state. He would sip on a very weak scotch and soda, typically Johnny Walker Red. During this four hour period he would concentrate intently on his work.
Around noon he would begin getting for lunch with visiting dignitaries or friends. He circulated with economists, scientists, secret service members, and political allies. He had a wide circle of loyal friends who shared information and thought with him. In this way, he stayed on top of current events and thought. In fact, the informal intelligence briefings he received in the early 30’s allowed him to anticipate the Nazi threat and bolstered his arguments against appeasement. At lunch, he would have a large meal, possibly a beer, possibly followed by Cognac, typically Hine.
In the early afternoon, Churchill would sip on another scotch and soda while strolling around his estate, doing some physical labor (he laid the bricks for his guesthouse at Chartwell, his country estate), or watching wildlife.
He would take a two hour nap around 4:00. Upon awakening, he would bath, sometimes while dictating correspondence. He would take long baths and splash around like a young child playing with bath toys. Then, he would get dressed and get ready for dinner.
At dinner which would last until around 10:00, he would eat, visit and talk with guests (his ideal conversations involved him as the principal participant) and consume champagne (typicallly Pol Roger) and perhaps port or more cognac.
At ten, he would then retire to his office upstairs where he would dictate to a team of secretaries and research assistants, dictating at a furious pace, often barking at a hapless secretary who misunderstood a word. He would go non-stop until around 2:00 a.m., when he would sleep.
This routine will not work for most people. The shear amount of alcohol consumed would render most of us unproductive. In addition, the lack of servants proves a hurdle but may not be insurmountable given services like Upwork and Fiver. Churchill also was a singular genius who often prevailed in spite of his foibles (We all do, but we can’t mistake the weaknesses for the path).
However, we can glean some very useful information from this system:
- Chunk your time into large blocks. Churchill had two four hour periods each day in which he worked furiously.
- Surround yourself with people that you can learn from.
- Build in rest and enjoyment. Between these blocks he relaxed and even napped, refreshing himself.
- Do something enjoyable. Even when working long hours find enjoyment and delight in each day.
- Try to work at the times that work best for you. If you are sharpest in the afternoon or evening, then schedule your mental heavy lifting for those times. If you are sharpest in the morning, have a large block of time in the morning to work.
Of course, none of these rules is absolute. Churchill could not follow this rigid schedule during World War II, but still performed exceptionally. Which leads us to the last rule: Be flexible. Nothing is ideal. Look at your situation or time as it exists and make the best of it.