An avid outdoorsman, politician, and quote machine, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was never one to sit idle. The 26th president of the United States (1901 to 1909) regarded the calendar as something to be conquered and fulfilled, never squandered. He employed a number of routines to help him achieve his goals during his presidency and beyond, and each was ruthlessly efficient—particularly when he was on the campaign trail.
In his role as running mate to presidential candidate William McKinley in 1900, Roosevelt adhered to a strict schedule that packed more into one day than some people accomplish in a week. In his book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, author Edmund Morris detailed Roosevelt's activities:
7:00 a.m. Breakfast
7:30 a.m. A speech
8:00 a.m. Reading a historical work
9:00 a.m. A speech
10:00 a.m. Dictating letters
11:00 a.m. Discussing Montana mines
11:30 a.m. A speech
12:00 p.m. Reading an ornithological work
12:30 p.m. A speech
1:00 p.m. Lunch
1:30 p.m. A speech
2:30 p.m. Reading [Scottish novelist] Sir Walter Scott
3:00 p.m. Answering telegrams
3:45 p.m. A speech
4:00 p.m. Meeting the press
4:30 p.m. Reading
5:00 p.m. A speech
6:00 p.m. Reading
7:00 p.m. Supper
8-10 p.m. Speaking
11:00 p.m. Reading alone in his car
12:00 a.m. To bed
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Clearly, Roosevelt had an effective strategy for fulfilling the obligations of his working life while still making time for reading in order to enrich his intellect. The habits grew out of his experience at Harvard, where he balanced his schoolwork with athletic pursuits and other interests. Roosevelt devoted fragments of each day to study and refused to entertain any interruptions. Studying or reading for even half an hour with an appropriate amount of focused intensity, he believed, was more beneficial than sitting for twice as long while distracted by friends, food, or daydreaming.
When he became president following the assassination of McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt's responsibilities grew exponentially, but he remained insistent on a highly organized approach to the day. During one week in February 1903, Roosevelt took up to eight meetings in an hour, averaging 7.5 minutes to conduct whatever business was on the table. During this time, he was also posing for his official presidential portrait by artist John Singer Sargent. Rather than sit for one or two marathon sessions, Roosevelt agreed to pose for just one half-hour a day. On Sunday, he cleared his schedule to unwind and keep up with correspondence.
The ability to concentrate has only gotten harder in an era of screens and buzzing phones, and you might think Roosevelt had it comparatively easier. It might help to remember that, in 1912, he was shot by a would-be assassin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin just before going on stage to give a scheduled speech. He managed to complete the 84-minute speech with a bullet lodged in his ribs. For Roosevelt, nothing was going to interfere with the day's routine.
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