Daily Routines is a series by Balance the Grind, profiling successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and business executives to explore their routines, habits and rituals.
For someone who has written some of the most interesting books I’ve read in recent memory — Outliers (2008), Talking to Strangers (2019) to name a few – Malcolm Gladwell confesses to “lead an astonishingly boring life,” one made up with long stretches of reading and writing.
For every hour I spend writing, I spend three hours thinking about writing.Dissecting the Success of Malcolm Gladwell (#168) | The Tim Ferriss Show
Gladwell’s daily routine starts between 8-8.30am. He’ll have some tea or coffee, and a very small meal — half a cup of oatmeal, or as revealed on his conversation with Tim Ferriss, a third of a croissant, “I think one should eat the absolute minimum in the morning. I don’t think you should eat a lot in the morning. That’s one of my rules.”
At around 9am is when Gladwell will start the most important part of his work — writing. But not at home, or in his office. In a 2009 profile by The Guardian, Gladwell explained that as a result of spending 10 years in a newsroom, he can’t write when it’s quiet and needs the buzz of people around him, “I like people around me; but I don’t want to talk to them.” He’ll ride his bike around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, setting up shop in cafes and restaurants where he’ll write for a few hours.
Writing is not the time consuming part. It’s knowing what to write. It’s the thinking and the arranging and the interviewing and the researching and the organizing. That’s what takes time. Writing is blissful. I wish I could do it more. It’s a break from all of the hassle.DISSECTING THE SUCCESS OF MALCOLM GLADWELL (#168) | THE TIM FERRISS SHOW
Most of Gladwell’s mornings are spent writing until lunchtime. “Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime, when I treat myself to The New York Times — the paper edition,” Gladwell discussed in a column for The Altantic.
“My brother, who is a teacher, always says that we place too much emphasis on the speed of knowledge acquisition, and not the quality of knowledge acquisition: I guess that means that the fact that I am still on Monday, when everyone else is on Tuesday, is okay.”
After lunchtime, Gladwell will ride on over to the New York University library and do some research in the academic journals, “I don’t really have a set pattern: mostly I just browse through the databases, or root around in the footnotes of things that I’ve liked.” He rarely writes in the afternoon, and while he’ll continue to work — emails and reading — his writing hours are over at lunchtime.
Gladwell will wind up his workday with some exercise, usually a run, before heading home for dinner, or watch sports on TV or read a book — in 2011, he was finishing up Keith Richards memoir, Life, “the great test of any memoir is that the author’s life has to be more interesting than the reader’s life. He passes that test with flying colors, although the bar is rather low in my case.”
Bedtime for the author is usually 11pm-midnight.
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