thomas jefferson
Life Hacks, Personal Productivity, Productivity & Lifestyle

Lessons in Productivity from Thomas Jefferson

When you sell your time for a living, being as productive as possible becomes a huge priority. I enjoy looking to experts to learn about life. Thomas Jefferson may be just the right guy to go to to learn more about productivity. What did he know about it? Well he managed to fit organizing a successful revolution, developing the government of a new country, serving as Secretary of State, establishing religious freedom and separation of church and state in the U.S., serving as Vice President of the United States, founding a university, serving as President of the United States, reducing the federal debt by 25 percent, doubling the size of the U.S, authoring two of the most important documents in American history, raising two daughters, and much much more into his eighty-three years of life.

How did he manage?

Stay Busy

First of all, he claimed that those who were always doing something, would never have to worry about wanting time:

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” – Thomas Jefferson

A lot of times we think we need more time than we actually do because we waste a lot. Lifehacker actually has an entire blog post extrapolating this point.

Early Rising

“Whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun.” – Thomas Jefferson

I know, everybody is different. Just stay with me here. One thing many different types of successful men have in common is this—they wake up early. Examples? Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs…. Are you starting to be even a little convinced?

In my personal experience, if I wake up a bit before the majority of the world and get some stuff done, I’m rewarded with a moral boost that carries me through my day.


“With respect to the distribution of your time, the following is what I should approve: From 8. to 10. o’clock practise music.
From 10. to 1. dance one day and draw another.
From 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter next day.
From 3. to 4. read French.
From 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
From 5. till bedtime, read English, write, &c.”
– Jefferon’s suggested schedule for his eleven-year-old daughter

Like many successful people, Thomas Jefferson was a firm believer in “distributing” or scheduling time. If you make sure to maintain a strict schedule, you’ll be able to plan more waking hours doing productive things rather than wasting hours on unplanned Netflix marathons.

Physical Exercise

“…I give more time to exercise of the body than of the mind, believing it wholesome to both.”

Thomas Jefferson was a firm believer in the connection between physical exercise and mental health. He spent two hours every day walking or horseback riding. That is a lot of time set aside for a man as busy as he was. I like to tell myself, if Thomas Jefferson made the time to exercise for two hours, I think I can carve out at least thirty minutes.

Exercise is another common characteristic that many truly productive men share. Many have noted that exercise, particularly in the morning, helps them to be energized and productive throughout the rest of the day. In fact, studies have been done to give evidence to this point.

So TJ Says…

Although he was no angel, there are a lot of things we could learn from Thomas Jefferson. His chock full life resulted in a legacy that will never fade away. From the Declaration of Independence to the purchase of the states of Louisiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Nebraska, we’ve got a lot to thank him for. As far as learning from his productivity habits goes, the principles I’ve garnered are as follows:

  • Never allow yourself to stay idle
  • Rise early
  • Schedule your time
  • Make time for physical exercise
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