Winston Churchill Success: 7 Secrets You Need to Know

written by Dan Silvestre

I recently watched Darkest Hour, a great historic movie inspired by the book of the same title about the first few days of Winston Churchill’s as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Gary Oldman is tremendous portraying the inner struggle of a man that had the decision to negotiate or fight Hitler’s Nazi Germany on his shoulders.

It also gave a glimpse into Winston Churchill success, work routines, and how he managed his day to day operations to be productive.

Churchill had a remarkable career, serving as the Prime Minister for Great Britain during WWII (and again from 1951–1955), leading the Allies to victory against the Axis forces.

But did you know that he also wrote 43 book-length works in 72 volumes over his lifetime? He wrote more words than Charles Dickens and Shakespeare combined!

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 (the only British Prime Minister to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature!) “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”.

Over the years I have read many articles on his productivity hacks and after watching the movie this seemed a good a time as any to compile his best success secrets.

Here are the top 7 Winston Churchill success secrets and how you can apply them to your life.

#1 Conserve Energy

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In the biography of Winston Churchill, Paul Johnson shares a story when he had the chance of interviewing the British Prime Minister in 1946. He asked Churchill: “Sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?”

The answer astonished the young writer:

“Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”

He continues: “Churchill was capable of tremendous physical and intellectual efforts, of high intensity over long periods, often with little sleep. But he had corresponding powers of relaxation, filled with a variety of pleasurable occupations, and he also had the gift of taking short naps when time permitted. Again, when possible, he spent his mornings in bed, telephoning, dictating, and receiving visitors. ”

Churchill worked for hours from his bed in the morning while eating breakfast and dictating to secretaries.

Apply This Productivity Secret

This Winston Churchill productivity secret should be interpreted on a broader basis, not only looking at our physical self (sitting or lying down) but also where we put our energy and efforts. More often than not, we fill our lives with meaningless projects, discussions, and occupations. It makes us feel busy. But busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive.

There’s only a limited amount of energy, time, and focus to spend on our lives and as such we should apply it to the biggest priorities and change-maker actions.

Ask yourself What Can I Remove? to simplify your life. This will allow you to set priorities and focus on doing and owning what you truly love, conserving energy on anything that is not critical.

It reminded me of The Sliding Scale of Giving a F*ck, where you can use the question “How strongly do you/I feel about this?” as a hack to understand if you are arguing for the sake of arguing or because you genuinely care about the subject. Also read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, a great book about this topic.

How can you conserve energy in your life?

#2 Build a Solid Daily Routine

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From a young age, one of Churchill’s success secrets was to develop a daily schedule and routine for his personal time.

While it might have seemed unusualhe did start work from bedit was indeed very strict. This is confirmed by one of the researchers that assisted him in book writing: “He was totally organized, almost like a clock. His routine was absolutely dictatorial. He set himself a ruthless timetable every day and would get very agitated, even cross, if it was broken.”

Even as Prime Minister of one of the most powerful countries in the world during one of its hardest times, Churchill would still insist on taking a nap, bathing, dress and eat his evening meals in peace every day.

“Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.”

His daily routine kept him sane and focused during one of the most trying periods of leadership in Great Britain.

Apply This Productivity Secret

Churchill’s daily routine was structured around the hours that he was most productive: after waking up, after lunch, and after dinner.

Most of the people don’t have the flexibility to break the day into three separate periods that far apart. But you can find the periods during your working hours that you are most productive (this is called “flow-state”, a concept introduced in “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”) and construct your day around those peak flow-state periods.

Schedule the highest leveraging activities (also known as Deep Work) for those periods and the leave the rest to perform shallow work, such as email or low-energy activities.

For example:

I am most productive immediately after waking up (for about 2 hours) and then mid-evening (for about 2 hours as well). I normally do a couple of Pomodoro cycles in those periods and work on my highest-leveraging activities, such as writing this post.

The periods which I am least productive is before and after lunch (about one hour each). I reserve that time to either rest or deal with low-energy tasks, like reading and replying to email, reading content online, or outsource specific tasks. By working around my energy levels, I work smarter, instead of harder.

#3 Find the Perfect Work Environment

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Immediately after waking up, Churchill dictated memos to secretaries until the late morning or early afternoon.

He would then eat breakfast, returning to bed afterward to mow through a mountain of written correspondence his staff would present for his review, comment, and approval. After lunch, he retreated to his study to work.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

Most of his high-power work was done either in bed or in his study. He worked when and where he was the most comfortable.

Apply This Productivity Secret

Our environmentlocation, sounds, weather, coworkers, physical itemsplays a crucial role in productivity.

Find the location that you are most comfortable doing specific types of work. For reading, this is probably going to be a quieter area or a room. Move around when taking phone calls so you are more dynamic. For critical thinking and brainstorming, a whiteboard in a quiet room can be the ideal solution.

Experiment different environments for different tasks and find your best combinations for productivity.

I prefer to write at the desk in my office but often go to the kitchen or balcony to read books. For critical thinking, I prefer to stand up and write on the table with a marker or take a walk to a park nearby.

The simple act of changing the environment immediately signals my brain to change its “working mode”. Working where I feel most comfortable helps me be more productive.

#4 Keep Things Simple

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Throughout his career in government, one of the key secrets of Winston Churchill success was to use simple systems designed for maximum ease of usage.

After the memos were complete, Churchill would add a couple of tags to it before it went out, such as “Action this day” (for something that needed to happen on that day) or “Respond in 3 days” (for less urgent items). He developed this simple productivity system throughout the years, perfecting it to its simplest state.

”To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.“

We would simplify other systems as well. As an example, Churchill didn’t accept any response that was longer than one type-written page. This would force other people to put thought into every word on the page, ensuring that only the most crucial information would be in it. As a result, it would be simple, clear, to the point, and easy to read.

To ensure we didn’t spend time choosing what to wear, he even had a uniform customized for him during the war!

Apply This Productivity Secret

Too often we make the mistake of building complex management systems. We copy someone else’s system and apply it to our lives. Later we find out it’s too complicated and incredibly hard to maintain.

There are no perfect productivity systems. What works for me might not work for you. What you need to do it take the best parts of many systems and build your own productivity system. The simpler, the better. In productivity, as in life, less is more.

And this simplicity can be integrated into many parts of your life: keep messages brief in emails and written communication, own less stuff to avoid decision fatigue, simplify your diet by eating the same things over and over again.

The secret to genius is not complexity, it’s simplicity.

#5 Nap to Restore Energy Levels

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Churchill was a biphasic sleeper and his afternoon nap was a non-negotiable part of his routine. After lunch, he would paint or play cards with his wife before taking a nap and rise again at 6:30. In his words: “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

Napping was a big part of Winston Churchill success because it allowed him to divide the days into two. This helped him get twice as much done.

“You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do.”

Napping was such a sacred activity to Churchill that kept a bed in the Houses of Parliament. He kept his routine during World War II, taking his afternoon nap in the War Rooms.

Apply This Productivity Secret

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer used to say that “Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death. The higher the interest rate and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.”

Taking a 20-minute nap in the afternoon can restore your energy levels for the afternoon. It’s like plugging your phone to charge, moving it from 50% to 80–90% in about 20 minutes. To fall asleep faster, try meditating for a couple of minutes.

If you’re sluggish, struggling with focus, or your mind just isn’t that sharp, take a nap. A rested brain is a better brain. Play the long game.

#6 Don’t Lose Enthusiasm

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Winston Churchill was an incredibly persistent person.

He consistently stood for what he believed, “crossing the aisle” if he disagreed with his current party. He warned about the threat on the free world from the rise of Hitler before World War II. After the war, he warned about the Marxism communism threat to freedom. They were both unpopular opinions at the time that turned out to be true.

Churchill was not concerned about the popular opinion, only the truth. In his words: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

During his political career, Churchill lost more elections than any other British politician. He was the Prime Minister during World War II, only to be outed of office shortly after the war ended. He would return six years later to once again become Prime Minister.

The reason for Winston Churchill success was his persistence and perseverance. When others would have given up, he continued. When others would have given in and compromised, he stood. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Great leaders lead change effectively. They are willing to cast a vision and be committed to it, working day and night to convince people that the path they have chosen is the right one. They stay the course and in Churchill’s words, they “never, never, never give up.”

Trying to inspire others, Churchill’s ended most of his conversations with his favorite phrase KBO. He constantly told everyone he met: “Keep Buggering On.”

Apply This Productivity Secret

Too often we make the mistake of giving up too early. Our minds develop a reasonable timeframe for success. Fail to achieve our goals within that timeframe and we consider it a failure.

But we overlook the fact that we now have a lot more experience on a given problem and now what doesn’t work. We are better prepared to solve it because of it, not in spite of.

To succeed, train your brain to look at failures and struggles as progress, as getting closer to the solution.

Thomas Edison said it best: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is the way to develop a growth mindset.

#7 Embrace Life-Long Learning

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Winston Churchill success can also be attributed to his constant expansion of knowledge. He was one of history’s most impressive on-the-job learners.

When he was a soldier in India, for example, his mother would send him books for his own “private university”. Graham Farmelo, author of “Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics” recounts: “He really believed that in order to achieve his ambition of being prime minister he had to learn things”.

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”

Churchill was always looking for people that could talk to him in a civilized way about things he didn’t understand.

He was a life-long learner and viewed knowledge as a fundamental skill of any human. This was reflected in his legacy: he helped establish the Churchill College in the 1950s to further science education in the United Kingdom.

Apply This Productivity Secret

Life-long learning is necessary for personal growth. Knowledge compounds over time and your brain starts making connections between all the things you know.

Expand your knowledge by reading books, particularly non-fiction ones, as well as biographies. If you prefer to learn visually, take online courses or watch documentaries.

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

Keep Buggering On!

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