What is Winston Churchill’s Productivity Secret?

Churchill Image: I am an optimist2“How did you get so much done?”

You’ve probably heard the question many times, asked of interview guests the world over …

“If you could interview anyone, living or not, who would it be?”

For me, that’s an easy question.

Winston Churchill.

What if I could only ask him one question?

I could ask him a million questions and talk with him for days, but if I’m only given one question, here’s the simple one I’d ask:

“How did you get so much done?”

Winston Churchill lived to the ripe age of 90

Today, Sunday, November 30, is the birthday of Winston Churchill.

He was born 140 years ago in 1874 … and died 50 years ago next month … yet his talent and prodigious output remains striking to this day. He has always been one of my favorite historical characters … and for many reasons.

His oratorical wit, style and passion was without peer. His quotes are famous and I’ve included only a bare few of the many for which he is known.

His discipline and resilience are legendary

He had a spine of steel … with discipline and resilience to match, albeit the certainty of his convictions often triggered an abject stubbornness that wasn’t always welcome and created no small amount of turmoil.

I suppose some of these attributes can be found among many of us, so by themselves, they may not be so distinctive.

[pullquote]Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is – the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.[/pullquote]

For me, his greatest distinction is the enormity of his accomplishments.

Where to start with the list of his accomplishments?

In most lifetimes, we’d be fortunate to accomplish a fraction of what Churchill got done.

Most notably, he served as the Prime Minister for Great Britain (and for 40+ years in the House of Commons, holding many other cabinet-level positions previously), leading the Allies to victory against the Axis forces during World War II … by most standards, enough to earn eternal praise and approbation.

He served as Prime Minister, not once but twice. During World War II from 1940-45, and again from 1951-1955.

[pullquote]An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity, a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.[/pullquote]

The Nobel Prize for Literature

Yet, who else in that same lifetime wrote 43 book-length works in 72 volumes? (More words, by the way, than Charles Dickens and Shakespeare combined.)

Who else was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”.

I’ve accumulated a rather substantial library, about him and by him, including two of his most famous works, A History of the English Speaking Peoples and the The History of World War II. I haven’t read both of them completely – together, it’s almost 7,000 pages – but the scope and detail of the work is extraordinary and could easily occupy the lifetimes of many people.

There is much, much more

[pullquote]Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.[/pullquote]

Volumes have been written about Winston Churchill so I won’t elaborate on his oil paintings, gardening, carpentry and other skills … but if you’d like to learn more, grab any of Martin Gilbert’s biographies (he is the “official biographer” for Winston Churchill), or those of William Manchester (my favorite for their accessibility and his engaging writing style), or  seek out one of the organizations dedicated to all things Churchill, like the Churchill Centre.

What is Churchill’s productivity secret?

[pullquote]To believe is to be strong … Doubt cramps energy … Belief is power.[/pullquote]

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could uncover that one secret that he could share about how he got so much done?

If you look closely, I think the secret is bare. It’s one we already suspect and often wish we could avoid.

Hard work.

Churchill’s output, on all levels, was prodigious because he worked hard. Sure, he had secretaries, transcription editors, all that you can imagine.

He was known to work through many nights, fueled by brandy and cigars many would say, keeping stenographers busy around the clock. Working in bed in his pajamas and scolding many who he didn’t think could keep up.

He even had a uniform customized for him during the war so he didn’t have to spend any time considering what to wear.

Would each of us get that much done if we had all the help we could get?

Probably not.

This is Churchill’s REAL SECRET

[pullquote]When you are going through hell, keep going.[/pullquote]

Yes, his hard work would wear out most of us long before the finish line.

But, we’ve all had periods when we worked really hard, haven’t we?

We’ve pulled all-nighters.

We’ve been home late and up early for days or weeks.

We’ve worked really hard.

But, it’s virtually impossible to sustain that engine if you don’t have the other ingredient that I think is at the heart of Churchill’s achievements;

His unwavering conviction that he could illuminate the darkness by his efforts.

He could effect change, he could influence people for the better, he could persuade thoroughly by his huge presence and strength of character.

He was absolutely convinced that he could make a difference, all the time, and I think this is what drove his legendary work habits.

He could make a difference!

What does this mean for us?

[pullquote]Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.[/pullquote]

We, too, can make a difference. We may not be able to change the course of history on such a grand scale, but we can certainly change the course of history for many of the people in our lives

Our children, our spouses and partners, our colleagues … many people around us can be positively and powerfully influenced by us.

That powerful result alone is worth the hard work, isn’t it?

Keep Buggering On

KBO became Churchill’s favorite phrase that ended most of his conversations. He constantly told everyone he met:

“Keep Buggering On.”

So, have your five-minute pity party about all of the trials and tribulations you face … and then get on with it.

That’s the least we can do in his honor.



Question: What is the productivity secret that drives your achievements? 

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