How to Work like the Greatest Philosophers

Philosophers have a lot to teach us when it comes to productivity and thinking.

Do questions about the meaning of life and the existence of free will bring back bad memories of that Philosophy 101 course you took in college? Don’t worry about it. You’re not alone in having reservations about the abstruseness of philosophy. While philosophy certainly isn’t for everyone, some of the greatest minds in the field still have a lot to offer even if you have no interest in life’s most esoteric questions.

Philosophers, much like the great authors of literature, are creative types that developed their own systems in order to increase productivity and achieve greatness. Like many geniuses, some of these philosophers leaned towards eccentricity. Despite some of those foibles, you’d do well to glean some life lessons from these deep thinkers.

Indeed, the personal habits of renowned philosophers provide insights that anyone can use, even if your number one goal is to get a work project done on time rather than answering life’s unanswered questions. 

Walking like Aristotle

One of the earliest and perhaps greatest philosophers was Aristotle, who lived in Greece during the fourth century B.C. He was perhaps as influential as any philosopher will ever be. Aristotle’s most famous pupil was the legendary conqueror Alexander the Great, so the philosopher’s teachings were spread far and wide through the known world. His thoughts on science were the gold standard for more than 2,000 years, with some of his findings still being used in modern times.

Aristotle’s resume is unparalleled and he was obviously blessed with an incomparable mind. One of his tricks to get the creative juices flowing was to walk as much as possible. Instead of lingering in a stuffy classroom, he was known to gives lectures while walking with his students. It’s believed that his habit led to the naming of his teaching as the Peripatetic school of philosophy. “Peripatetic,” you might have guessed, is derived from the Greek word for walking.

This habit of walking to boost creativity has transcended time and geography. Places as varied as Kyoto, Japan and Heidelberg, Germany boast scenic trails called “Philosopher’s walks” aged hundreds of years old.

Walking while on the clock might not be feasible for you, so try getting in a walk during your lunch break or before a meeting. A stroll can improve your mood and reduce anxiety, whether you’re a philosopher or not.

A Nietzschean Routine

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” wrote infamous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche, who was born in 1844, eventually achieved remarkable prominence and became the poster child for nihilism.

Nietzsche was a creature of habit that stuck strictly to his own schedule. After rising at dawn and washing with cold water, the man would drink some warm milk and then work without pause until the early afternoon.

During his lengthy mid-day break, he would go on a lengthy walk (philosopher love walking, if you haven’t noticed) and write down any thoughts that came to him. After lunch, he’d go on another long walk with his notepad. By four or five, he’d settle back into work until bedtime.

That routine probably won’t work for everyone, but it helped Nietzsche foster his creativity. Keeping a daily routine is a proven technique for boosting productivity. The more decisions one needs to make during the day, the more fatigued the mind becomes. By keeping a routine, you can focus on the work at hand and not the superfluous decisions that wear on the mind as the day goes on.

Nietzsche wasn’t the only famed German philosopher who stuck religiously to a daily routine. Immanuel Kant, who rose to prominence in the 18th century, was also known for his unvarying routine.

Kant rose at 5 a.m. and proudly boasted that he never woke up even half an hour later. Of course, it helped that he had a servant to rouse him each morning. After some tea and a smoke, he’d prepare his lectures. After his lecture he would—you guessed it—go for a walk. People in his town put so much trust in his punctuality that when the town clock was being worked on, the engineers reset it to match his schedule.

Coffee with Kierkegaard and Voltaire

Everyone has his or her vices, and you can do much worse than an addiction to coffee. Throughout history, coffee seems to have been the drink of choice for some of the most esteemed philosophers.

Soren Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, had a particularly odd preference when it comes to coffee. The Danish philosopher would, according to his biographer, fill an empty cup with sugar and then add black coffee on top of the sugary pyramid. The drink had the consistently of mud, but it was good enough to kickstart the philosopher’s mind.

Fortunately, you don’t need to drink something so disgusting to reap the benefits of coffee. A cup or two a day of coffee offers a host of health benefits. The brew can prevent Alzheimer’s, lessen pain and strengthen the heart.

Don’t fret too much if you’re worried about developing a coffee addiction. Voltaire, the witty enlightenment-era philosopher, reportedly drank 40 to 50 cups of coffee a day. Doctors tried to proscribe the habit, but Voltaire still managed to live until his 80s.

Think Like a Philosopher

You can leave life’s biggest questions to the philosophers. In the meantime, learn from the masters of the field in order to foster creativity and increase productivity.


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