7 Lessons Learned From Jay Gatsby’s Daily Routine

I recently finished The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This was part of my 12 Months of Modernism reading program and is my favorite book to date.  As a firm proponent of having a strong daily routine I was thrilled to come across the following passage, detailing the conversation between Nick Carraway and Mr. Henry C. Gatz following (Spoiler alert!) Gatsby’s untimely death:

He seemed reluctant to put away the picture, held it for another minute, lingeringly, before my eyes.  Then he returned the wallet

…and pulled from his pocket a ragged old copy of a book called Hopalong Cassidy.

“Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy.  It just shows you.”

He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see.  On the last fly-leaf was printed the word SCHEDULE and the date September 12, 1906.  And underneath:

Rise from bed                                                                 6.00                       A.M.

Dumbell exercise and wall scaling                             6.15-6.30              “

Study electricity, etc.                                                     7.15-8.15              “

Work                                                                                8.30-4.30              P.M.

Baseball and sports                                                       4.30-5.00              “

Practice elocution, poise and how to obtain it         5.00-6.00              “

Study needed inventions                                              7.00-9.00              “

General Resolves

No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]

No more smokeing or chewing

Bath every other day

Read one improving book or magazine per week

Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week

Be better to parents

“I come across this book by accident,” said the old man.  “It just shows you, don’t it?”

“It just shows you.”

“Jimmy was bound to get ahead.  He always had some resolves like this or something.  Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that…”

What a great schedule!

In the novel Gatsby is well traveled, educated type of gentleman; if somewhat insecure.  His frame of mind was obviously fixed on self-improvement and judging by end result was quite successful.  A number of points on his list jump right out at me, and I’d like to take a closer look.

  1. He was an early riser and got enough sleep

The schedule shows Gatsby rising at 6 a.m. and finishing his evening study at 9 p.m.  Allowing an hour to wind down in the evening means he would still get a solid eight hours of sleep each night.

Sleep is vital to our health and development; both for consolidating knowledge learned and for repairing our bodies.  While there is a range in the required amount of sleep each person needs it is generally accepted to be somewhere between seven and nine hours.  Anything less is shortchanging yourself, and any perceived productivity gains made by sacrificing that sleep is typically an illusion as studies show that productivity declines drastically when sleep deprived.

  1. Fitness played a major role in his day

Following a vigorous Victorian style workout of dumbbells and wall scaling, which I can only assume is an early form of parkour, first thing in the morning sounds like an excellent way to get the blood flowing.  Then after work a more social bit of sports takes place, with some baseball or other team sport.

Notice how it doesn’t mention “drinking at the pub” or “watching reruns on Netflicks”.  The lesson here is one that we all know even if we don’t follow it as strictly as we should.  Exercise and physical activity makes us feel good.  And when we feel good we do better work.

Also note that Gatsby was working to give up both smokeing (sic) and chewing.  Nice to know that we aren’t alone in struggling with vices.

  1. He was studious…

An hour’s study of electricity, etc. every morning, for what is obviously due only to personal interest is impressive.  On top of that, one improving book or magazine each week shows the dedication to increasing his general knowledge.

Be it related to our chosen fields, or for something we hope to achieve in the future, an hour each day plus a book per week is an excellent volume of study that would yield great benefits over time.  The key of course is to maintain consistency in doing so.

  1. …and a budding entrepreneur

Finishing his day “studying needed inventions” proves this.  The key word is “needed”.  Entrepeneurship in a pure sense is identifying a problem, then solving it.  This reminds me of Thomas Edison, who came up with many inventions in his lifetime.  The man never stopped!  I think that bringing an invention to market back then was similar to starting a business today.

The key to doing so successfully is simple; you’ve got to put in the work.  Whether it is a blog, a franchise, or Amazon, you’ve got to put in the work daily.  There are no shortcuts.

  1. When he worked, he worked

On top of his rigorous schedule of self improvement Gatsby still managed to find the time to work an eight hour day!  There is a culture developing these days that views the dayjob as something to put up with while striving towards your dream.  And the work towards that dream job is often done on your bosses time.  I challenge that your day job will become your dream job, once you are good enough at it.

Perhaps the work isn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, but it is what allows the freedom to pursue the other activities.  Combining your day job with careful project layering can help ensure that you are taking the most possible value from it.

  1. He was building a nest egg

Three bucks a week back around the turn of the century was worth… how much?  More than I ever saved as a young man I’m guessing.  We all know about the power of compound interest, and further to that, having some cash on hand for when an opportunity arises is one of the smartest things a person can do.  Gatsby, what with his inventing and all, probably spent that money on a life changing opportunity that came along at just the right time.

The moral is simple; stop buying so much shit and save your money for something that can truly change your life.

  1. He was careful who he hung out with

Managing relationships can be difficult.  It is obvious that Gatsby had a few relationships that were not serving him well and perhaps were even toxic.  By creating distance from people that are dragging you down there is more room to let uplifting people into your life.

He also resolved to be better to his parents, indicating a growing maturity and realization that in the end there are few people in the world that will support you unconditionally like your family will.

Your Own Perfect Day

The schedule presented by Gatsby is that of a young man with different priorities than you or I likely have.  But there are a number of universal truths hidden within it as well.

Personally I perform best when following a routine.  I’ve tried to lay out my days the best way possible over the past few years.  When something isn’t working I’ll modify the routine, but only after giving it an honest try.  But exercise, sleep, work, time with family, reading, and self-study all play a role in each day that I am totally satisfied with.

Do you have a daily schedule or list of general resolves?  Or do you just let the days happen as they may?  I think we can all take a lesson from the Great Gatsby on this one and plan our today’s for a brighter tomorrow.

What say you old boy?

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