Brighten Youth Education Centre



Body clocks and geniuses

Are you an early bird or night owl, and if you want to be a genius, how important is keeping the same routine as most people? Well, it turns out, not very important at all. French enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) spent the mornings in bed, reading or dictating work to one of his secretaries, before rising at noon. He would then receive visitors, and if there were none, continue to work. He never ate lunch and was fuelled by coffee and chocolate. While he would take time to dine and survey his estate, the work often continues late into the night, with one of his secretaries estimating that they spent between eighteen and twenty hours a day engaged in their task.

Founding Father and renowned polymath Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) developed a scheme to achieve “moral perfection” consisting of thirteen weeks, each devoted to a different virtue, for example moderation or cleanliness. Any transgressions were marked in black on a calendar. Franklin believed that if he could maintain devotion to a single virtue for a whole week, it would become a habit. He could then move on to the next virtue, making fewer and fewer mistakes until only occasional bouts of moral maintenance were required. After following his program several times, Franklin found it worked up to a point, as he then found it necessary to repeat the scheme once a year, then once every few years. The demands of business also meant that Franklin struggled to follow the ideal daily schedule he created for himself, or even keep his papers in order, a procedure he found most disagreeable.

During his lifetime, English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-82) wrote forty-seven novels and sixteen other books, more than twenty of which he completed during a thirty-three year career as a civil servant at the General Post Office. He did this by following a merciless early-morning routine that saw him rising at 5:30am and working for three hours, during which he believed he should have tutored his mind to work continuously. He spent the first thirty minutes reading the work of the previous day, and often wrote with his watch before him, demanding 250 words every fifteen minutes. This pace allowed him to complete ten pages a day. Over a period of ten months, he calculated he would produce three novels. If he finished a novel before the three hours was up, he set the manuscript aside, took out a fresh sheet of paper, and began his next work. Trollope’s habits were doubtlessly influenced by his mother Frances (1779-1863), herself popular novelist. She had begun her career at the age of fifty-three, desperately in need of money to support a sick husband and six children. Frances was usually at her desk by 4am and had completed her work in time to serve breakfast.

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