The Most Productive Scholar: W.E.B. Du Bois and his Daily Routine

The Most Productive Scholar: W.E.B. Du Bois and his Daily Routine

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was one of the most prolific scholars who ever lived. As a writer, he penned more than 20 monographs, 2 autobiographies, 5 novels (including a trilogy), and founded/edited the Crisis Magazine for which he wrote numerous articles. Du Bois was a foundational member of the development of modern sociology, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, and wrote incessantly about historical, sociological, and political matters of national and international significance.

So how did he do it all? Du Bois had very regimented days and a strict work ethic. He outlined his days using the time blocking method. Setting aside several hours at a time, he would block out the entire day until 9pm. The morning was reserved for reading and researching academic texts. The afternoons were for writing and revising his scholarly work. Evenings were dedicated to replying to correspondences and writing letters. Then, after the day's work was complete, he would devote an hour to reading novels. He was in bed by 10pm.

Interestingly, although he wrote before the era of computers, his work was not always relegated to pen and paper. His biographer, David L. Lewis, recounts how Du Bois would sometimes dictate his letters into a gramophone for later transcription.

Du Bois structured his day in a manner consistent with what many productivity gurus would advocate today. He front-loaded his day with the most cognitively taxing work and ended it with tasks that required the least mental strain. Furthermore, he saved correspondences (email) for the end of the day and used dictation to assist his writing workflow.

I'm not sure how regularly he stuck to this regiment but it clearly worked for him. It is important, however, not to underestimate the toll that this lifestyle can have on personal relationships. Du Bois admitted to not being the best father and letters between him and his wife revealed the strain put on the family. For a more thorough reading of Du Bois' scholarly and personal life check out David L. Lewis', W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race.

A special thanks to Dr. Josh Myers at Howard University for pointing me to Dr. Lewis' book.

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2016 Relaunch!