Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too

Source: Nautilus, spring issue

Many famous scientists and writers have something in common – they didn’t work long hours.

…Imagine a silent, cloaked figure walking home on a dirt path winding through the countryside. On some mornings he walks with his head down, apparently lost in thought. On others he walks slowly and stops to listen to the woods around him, a habit “which he practiced in the tropical forests of Brazil” during his service as a naturalist in the Royal Navy, collecting animals, studying the geography and geology of South America, and laying the foundations for a career that would reach its peak with the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. Now, Charles Darwin is older and has turned from collecting to theorizing. Darwin’s ability to move silently reflects his own concentration and need for quiet. Indeed, his son Francis said, Darwin could move so stealthily he once came upon “a vixen playing with her cubs at only a few feet distance” and often greeted foxes coming home from their nocturnal hunts….

Anyone who reviews his schedule cannot help but notice the creator’s paradox. Darwin’s life revolved around science. Since his undergraduate days, Darwin had devoted himself to scientific collecting, exploration, and eventually theorizing….

You see a similar convergence of four- to five-hour-long working days in the lives of writers. The German writer and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann had settled into a daily work schedule by 1910, when he was 35 and had published the acclaimed novel Buddenbrooks. Mann started the day at 9, shutting himself in his office with strict instructions not to be disturbed and working first on novels. After lunch, the “afternoons are for reading, for my much too mountainous correspondence and for walks,” he said. After an hour-long nap and afternoon tea, he would spend another hour or two working on easy short pieces and editing….

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4 responses to “Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too

  1. Horace Krever

    Perhaps it depends on what one means by “slacker” and “working”.

  2. Survival of the chillest.

  3. Thomas T. Schweitzer

    And to think that with this work program he Mann wrote, among so many other works, the 1,300-odd pages of his novel “Joseph and his Brothers”.

    This reminds me of Goethe’s epigram to his grandsonson:

    Ihrer sechzig had die Stunde,
    Mehr als tausend hat der Tag,
    Soehnchen, werde dir die Kunde
    Was man alles leisten mag!

    Will Goethe’s spirit forgive me the sacrilege of attempting to translate it?

    There are sixty in the hour,
    More than thousand in the day,
    Dearest child, may this teach you
    What diligence can achieve.

  4. mike holliday

    Setting targets without dreams is bookkeeping. If you don’t have dreams, you are aiming too low.