Was Darwin a sluggard?

Now here’s an interesting idea. “Visualization artist” R. J. Andrews culled through the biographies of famous people and put together a graphic depiction of their daily routines, published at Twisted Sifter  as “The daily routines of famous artists and scholars.” Number 5 on the list of twelve is our hero, Charles Darwin. First, the key to how the activities were coded:



Now, how did Darwin spend his day? Here it is:


Seven hours of sleep (same as me!), and lots of rest. In fact, it looks as if he put in about four hours of genuine work per day, and then spent two hours awake in bed (besides his seven hours’ sleep) “solving problems.”

One could conclude from this that Darwin was a sluggard, but in fact we know that’s not true. For, while having his walks, reading his mail, and reading books, Darwin was constantly pondering his Big Theory. Add to that the fact that most of the time he wasn’t well, with bouts of depression, vomiting, and general malaise. It’s amazing that besides The Origin, he wrote 11 other books.

But compared to Freud, Darwin really was a sluggard. Look at how Sigmund spent his days: a minimum of ten hours, or even 12+ if you stretch it. Pity that so much of his work yielded nothing.


Go look at the other artists and poets, the most diligent of which seems to have been Beethoven, putting in a solid 8 hours a day of composing. That sounds tough!

One thing I’ve concluded from perusing all those graphs is that I’m working too hard and not achieving enough!

h/t: Su


  1. Posted April 26, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Freud is not a good one to compare to. He was clearly using performance enhancing chemicals.

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      Does a pot of coffee before noon count?

    • Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Does cocaine (which Freud did use) really have such an effect?

      • Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        (the “Productivity” thing, not the “accomplished so little” thing)

  2. Posted April 26, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    You not achieving enough? 🙂 It is relative Professor Coyne; I’d love to have 1/10’th of your success.

    But I suppose that you are where you are is due, in part, to your setting high standards for yourself.

    • gravityfly
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Hear hear!

  3. Posted April 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. Darwin took a “siesta” at 3 PM for an hour. I’m a firm ‘believer’ in this, it allows you to squeeze two days in one!

  4. cremnomaniac
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    “…most of the time he wasn’t well, with bouts of depression, vomiting, and general malaise.”

    I didn’t know that I had so much in common with Darwin. I’d like to know how he produced so many books. I’m having trouble with a single thesis paper.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      He most likely took his time doing so and he had the support of family and household help. Our need to be “self made” has an isolating downside.

  5. MAUCH
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Your making to much of this. It’s quality not quantity. After all Johnny Carson is considered possibly the greatest hoste that the Tonight Show ever had and he didn’t work Mondays.

  6. colnago80
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It should be pointed out that Mozart was a big time gambler, and not a very successful one. He died broke, not because he wasn’t well paid, but because he pissed away his considerable earnings at the various gaming tables.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      And according to Falco because die Banke gegen ihn. 🙂

    • Posted April 26, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      The Mozart one baffles me. Why doesn’t teaching count as work? And “courting Constanze”? He married her. That can’t have been a very long lasting part of his routine.

      He did struggle to bring in money toward the end of his life. Popularity is fickle, and for some of the last concerts with which he was involved he received only 2d or 3d billing.

  7. Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    The seven hours of sleep I have down pat. It’s the damned accomplishment I find elusive.

  8. Grania Spingies
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that you’re not achieving enough. There aren’t too many people who can add Global Authority on Zonkeys to their C.V.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink


  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    What I noticed with all of these is their time is so well used. There were no 2 hour commutes each day or 1 day computer upgrades to get in their way. I don’t long to live in the age they all did (who wants to die of preventable illness, bathe infrequently or be a woman?) but there is something to say for the leisure they really had that could be ours if we chose.

    • Posted April 26, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m starting to lean towards the position that commuting time should be paid at one’s regular (or overtime) wage. That’s especially the case with any job in which all you need is a regular computer, phone, and Internet connection — which is the overwhelming majority of white-collar jobs these days.

      We already require employers to pay for things such as work clothes when they have certain requirements that the employee isn’t going to wear outside of the job. The time you spend commuting similarly benefits only the employer and is a significant burden for the employee.

      It would give employers serious incentives to dramatically cut the commuting time of their employees, including increasing telework options, requiring employees to use public transit and do something productive on the way, have more smaller distributed job sites rather than single massive complexes, and even simply hire people who live closer to the job site — all things that we as a society at least say we wish were more common.



      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        I think flexibility is becoming important in companies. If you want good talent, you should be able to trust that person to get the work done in the best possible way. For me, I work from home a couple of days a week but I’d become way too much of a hermit if I did that all the time. I like coming into work to discuss ideas with my peers and share…I always like to share. It’s been the perfect combo for me over the years.

        • Posted April 26, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          Oh, I’m not suggesting everybody should only ever work from home — just that employees stop subsidizing their employers.

          There are many very good legitimate business reasons for at least some employees to spend at least some time at the employers’s premises. But, just as with the clothing / uniforms I mentioned, when that’s the case, the company should be the one to foot the expense, not the employee. That would ensure that companies aren’t going to be wasteful of the employer’s time and expenses; they’d either be happy to pay when there’s a good business case for an employee being on site, or they’d figure out that they don’t need to waste that much of the employee’s day and that much of the planet’s petroleum reserves.

          Personally, I telecommute a couple days a week, too…but that’s also my entire weekly work schedule. And, yes; I’m very, very lucky…but it’s also something I did no small amount to work towards as well.


      • Kevin
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        I wrote almost 80% of my dissertation in commute. And I am not alone, based on the people I have seen on buses working.

        Likewise, when Kant spent a lot of time ‘making ends meet’, just like other people, like working at a patent office (relativity, hint hint)…that is time spent thinking…which counts for >95% of what becomes a life’s work.

        I think of a great deal of solutions to problems while biking to and from work now.

        • Posted April 27, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

          I think of a great deal of solutions to problems while biking to and from work now.

          And, assuming those problems are work-related…well, that means you’re working for your boss for free on your commute. And that’s just not right. Why should you do real work for your boss in an activity that your boss demands you engage in and not get paid for it?


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            Given the amount of time I think about other things or get distracted at work, I consider it all a draw. 😀 In fact, I find taking a break to think about other stuff helps me finish the stuff I’m working on for the $$ instead of for free.

  10. Larry Gay
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that Darwin was at work on his walks, observing worm castings or maybe turning over debris to look at beetles. I once lived near a famous biologist who packed his day with work by watching birds while driving — which made us sluggards sharing the road with him a little nervous.

  11. Posted April 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, unless you’re doing something truly mindless like menial labor or low-skill assembly-line work, I don’t think very many people at all have more than six truly productive hours per day in them.

    Yes, almost everybody, especially in the States, punches the clock for more, often much more, than that. But an awful lot of time is spent on overhead of one form or another — email, eating, breaks, maybe a bit of Web surfing and / or other forms of goofing off, and simply trying to remember where you left off. And if you try to push yourself past your limit, if you’re lucky you’ll just spin your wheels…and, if not, you’ll make enough mistrakes to not only make the time worthless but to eat into your productive time the next day. Yes, we can all do sprints of overtime…but not regularly, and not often.

    I suppose there’re also those who all they do is overhead. Sadly, they’re generally also the best-paid and highest-ranked people in the organization….


    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Email may be part of your job rather than goofing off. It certainly is a part of mine. I work in a multinational, and without an internet connection I could get virtually none of my work done. But I hear you. I occasionally pull extra long days because I have to; and then find that a week later it’s like I hit a wall. Spinning wheels is a pretty good description.

      • Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        Oh, certainly. Email is the main way I communicate on the job, and all the emails that go through my work account are work-related. It’s essential to the job.

        …but it’s also overhead. When I’m reading or writing email, I’m not slinging code, and slinging code is what they’re paying me for. I wouldn’t know which code to sling and nobody would know that it’s been slung without email (or the telephone or some other form of communication), but that’s not what they’re paying me to do.

        It’s like bathrooms, or cleaning services, or the break room, or the like. Essential to work getting done, but not part of the job.

        And that’s my thesis: given all the overhead that’s absolutely essential to getting the job done but isn’t actually part of the job, six hours of actual productive work is a lot to ask for in one day, unless you really are just a cog in a machine.


  12. Posted April 26, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I have read various biographies about Darwin, who is one of my heroes. The schedule does seem accurate for ‘usual’ days, but it is possible that when he was pressing to get a book out that he was capable of increasing his time on that activity. He was probably no sluggard in the year after he received the manuscript from Alfred Wallace. According to the 2nd volume of the biography on Darwin by Janet Browne, he worked rather tirelessly on completing his ‘outline’ for the Origin of Species, while also carrying out a pretty heavy correspondence schedule with his closest colleagues. He would write out portions of the ms, send it out to one of his associates, get it back with comments, rewrite it, etc. His outline was written in disjointed parts before, but once he got going it was ready to be sent out in about 13 months.

  13. Jim Thomerson
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I lived 11 miles from the university. I would use the commuting time thinking about things. I would discuss my commuting thoughts with my colleagues. Several times they encouraged me to move nearer the university.

  14. docbill1351
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I’m so much like Darwin! Oh, joy!

    Often I lie awake late at night solving problems, in the wee hours of the morning:

    “Should I get up and pee?” “No, it’s past 3, you can hold on until 6, ya wimp!”

    “No, seriously, it’s 4:30 and I’m bursting! Is it weakness to simply slide out of bed, trot over to the loo and make things right?”

    “Nay! It’s only a few hours to dawn! Cross ye legs and go back to sleep you turnip!”

    “Oh, my, it’s 5:45 and I don’t care what anybody says, I’m getting up!”

    Problem solved.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      Ah, a whole new meaning to get wee hours.

    • Posted April 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      I HATE this little dance, which I do every night. Every night. Except for me the problem is that if I give in and get up, I very rarely can get right back to sleep. I’ll lie awake for over an hour. Of course, I don’t get ant sleep if I don’t give in, either.

      I used to be able to go all night. What is happening to me? I do not like this getting older thing.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 27, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        I don’t get ant sleep if I don’t give in, either.

        Where there’s your problem right there. Only Ant can get ant sleep.

    • Posted April 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Long for the days of chamber pots? But seriously, do not drink any liquids after 9 pm, and pee before you go to bed. The ol’ urethra sphincter, she’ gettin’ old.

  15. Posted April 26, 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    12am-11:59pm – cocaine

  16. Jim Sweeney
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    I could comment on my sleeping habits, but I’m old and retired, and they’re pretty irrelevant.

    I can remember times when I was driving to or from work and figuring out a problem. A couple of these even resulted in patents. Sometimes commuting can be comparable to taking a walk, if you’re fortunate enough be driving on a country road in light traffic.

    There were times I felt so soporific after lunch that I stretched out on the carpet under my desk for a nap, once freaking someone out who came into my office looking for me.

    • Posted April 27, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      A few decades ago I shared an office with an editor who walked every morning from the Columbia University area, where he lived, to the office near Times Square. He arrived at 8.00 AM and worked without interruption until 1.00 PM. Then he went to a bar below in the building with a colleague, and had a few drinks, and at 2.30 PM he came back, and started sleeping at his desk with his pencil in his hand and a manuscript he was editing. He soon fell asleep, and he slept, holding the pencil to the paper. Usually, nobody disturbed him (us) but if someone came in (because of me, o horror) he started moving his pencil automatically. He was a very good editor, and the hierarchy above was enlightened enough to never caused any trouble.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 27, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      For me it gives me time to decompress and think about a lot of different things. However at other times (in snow storms, when I’m sick) it is just torture.

  17. Gordon Hill
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Four hours of productive/creative work each day seems to be a popular view among creators & artists. Some like Neil Simon break their day into a pair of two hour sessions. It seems to be a matter of fining one’s resonance.

  18. Jeffery
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I have (had) a childhood friend who worships Freud; in fact, he will no longer speak to me because I dared to continue to question “St. Freud’s” teachings. My debates with him previous to our split motivated me to do quite a bit of research on Freud, who makes Depak look like an amateur when it comes to inventing “woo”.

    Supposedly, by 1910, Freud had quit using cocaine although I find this hard to believe given the man’s personality and the controlling, paranoid, “Ayn Rand” nature of the group he drew in around him and dominated (she was a Dexedrine addict; no wonder her books are a thousand pages!). One of his quotes that has stuck in my mind was him saying that his findings were so undoubtedly true that it was not necessary that they be tested and that it would be foolish and presumptuous to do so!

    It’s amazing to read his lectures: he starts out by manufacturing assumptions out of thin air; then, a few minutes later, presents these assumptions as facts to back up the NEXT assumptions he makes.

    One of his “chosen ones” (I believe his name was Wilhem Fleiss) was being groomed by Freud to be the President of the new, “American Psychoanalytical Association”- Freud’s ministrations, crackpot analyses, and manipulations ruined the man’s life and he ended up dying in an asylum. Fliess’s daughter was going to Europe, and might see Freud; she asked her father if there was anything he wanted her to say to him: he said, “Tell him I think he is a great man, even if he DID invent psychoanalysis!

    Scientology’s hatred of psychiatry (ironic- they just don’t like competition) is the only aspect of that “pseudo-religion” that I can, to any extent, relate to (I have no problems with the techniques that actually have some evidence to back them up).

  19. Dominic
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    Poor darwin – we now know what some suspected – that he had Crohn’s Disease.

  20. Posted April 28, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    This is interesting – from childhood I’ve been aware of the human variability in sleep required. Some of my more accomplished friends seemed to require about half the sleep I do. So I often have wondered about the great geniuses of the past: were they (statistically) the ones who could get by on 4 hours (compared to my 8-9)?

    I also wonder how one gets the data …

  21. marksolock
    Posted April 28, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  22. Posted April 29, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] The rest: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/was-darwin-a-sluggard/ […]

%d bloggers like this: