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Alexander Hamilton’s Deep Advice

Deep Advice from a Founding Father

In the year 1800, Alexander Hamilton sent his son Philip the following letter, which laid out a set of rules that Philip should follow to make the most out of his legal training after his graduation from Columbia College:

Rules for Mr Philip Hamilton[:] from the first of April to the first of October he is to rise not later than six o’clock—The rest of the year not later than Seven. If Earlier he will deserve commendation. Ten will be his hour of going to bed throughout the year.

From the time he is dressed in the morning till nine o clock (the time for breakfast Excepted) he is to read Law.

At nine he goes to the office & continues there till dinner time—he will be occupied partly in the writing and partly in reading law.

After Dinner he reads law at home till five o’clock. From this hour till seven he disposes of his time as he pleases. From seven to ten he reads and studies what ever he pleases.

From twelve on Saturday he is at Liberty to amuse himself.

On Sunday he will attend the morning Church. The rest of the day may be applied to innocent recreations.

He must not Depart from any of these rules without my permission.

To our modern sensibilities, this schedule might seem overly rigorous. But Hamilton, who along with Jefferson and Madison, was one our most intellectual founder fathers, had learned through experience that doing anything worthwhile with your brain requires a foundation built on thousands of hours of deep work.

His schedule for his son was meant to trim waste and get right to the hard cognitive calisthenics needed to get Philip’s mind into shape.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I like this letter. In our current age, with its emphasis on personal branding, social network marketing, clever retweets and mobile accessibility, it’s important to remember that in many fields there’s still no substitute for hard brain work.

If you want to make a difference, you can’t avoid the necessity of waking up at six to read law before breakfast.


(Hat tip: Warren S.)

84 thoughts on “Alexander Hamilton’s Deep Advice”

  1. Surprised you didn’t give more attention to the weekends since those “innocent recreations” are crucial for avoiding burnout and stress. That he made a point to include rest as part of the routine is significant.

    • Said the guy posting at 3:18 am, thereby missing the point entirely. And additionally missing the INTENTIONAL lack of emphasis.

      • Did you consider that the commenter you are responding to may be in a different time zone, and thus 3:18am may be 3:18pm, or 9:18am. Since the invention of the telephone it has been possible to have a conversation with two people in different places speaking simultaneously.

    • Excellent observation.

      I would note that these so-called rules are extremely lenient – there is time given for discovering one’s passion, as well as free time for play on the weekends. Imagine if the youth of today spent equal amounts of time on study of/working in a profession and pursuing their creative goals. I know some manage to do it, but so often their peers belittle their hard work and sacrifices they’ve made with cries of “you’re so lucky!” and “oh, it must be nice to be in your shoes!”

      This is a very open framework for a successful life. I hope young people can adopt this and see how successful and fulfilled they could be.

  2. Hi Cal
    I’m a big fan and am currently waiting on your book on How to Become A Straight A Student. I was wondering, when entering into deep work, would that be able to cut off day dreaming? It’s a bad habit that I need to reduce as it has affected my school work in some way. Any tips?

    • If you’re fighting being a bit of a Walter Mitty, just know it requires training and focus. I am a bit of a former Mitty myself, and sometimes I still fall into the trap.
      The key for me was to realize that if I am daydreaming it’s just a form of escapism. In other words, it means that something does not make me happy in my life. Daydreaming is often a way to avoid fighting the problem, whatever it is. So, just find out what is the problem and fight it. It might be something simple (being bored by homework), or something more dramatic (a divorce).
      Some of the “tools” I used are white noise (pivotal for me while doing Deep Work), reducing notifications/time on media, and giving a value and a meaning to each and every activity I do. To “recharge” my brain I also drive many hours in emptiness of Texas.

    • You shouldn’t fight the day dreaming; it’s your brain’s way of telling you it needs to rest or divert energies for a while. I’m also a day dreamer and hated myself for it, but after reading some authors like Daniel Goleman and others I’ve come to accept that my brain is sadly just not wired for longer spells of concentration. You are probably a kinesthetic learner, someone who learns better “doing” things rather than just reading and absorbing. In my case that means active note-taking during study sessions and a focus on problem solving and exercises instead of reading. Meditation will help train your mind to focus for longer as well. It’s tough, unfortunately not all minds were created equal or in the same manner.

      • I’m a huge note taker myself and am uncomfortable trying to learn new things without being able to take notes. I was this way even before discovering I had hearing loss so I’m guessing I’m more of a visual learner than hearing, or that my mind just likes both. Many times I never forget what I’ve written down …

    • Make the most of your daydreaming by writing it down, all of it, every time and see where that leads you. Daydreaming is not useless, unless you do nothing with it.

  3. “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” (Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows”, recently)

    • Died from a duel? “Like Father, Like Son!” Or perhaps their eyes had just gone bad from reading by candlelight and lamp!

    • As a free thinker and free moral agent I find the letter deeply disturbing and have no trouble imagining his son being cranky and irritable responding poorly and immaturely to whoever killed him with the sort of programmatic notion of “death before dishonor” that was popular among the poor unfortunate humans of the day due to the rigid and authoritarian culture he was expected to become a cog in. I am glad my kids and myself have the luxury of growing up free of duels of honor, witch burning or racial genocides that come from such authoritarian times; that we’ve missed by an uncomfortably small number of decades. I hope they don’t fall for the trap of becoming a cog in the machine. I can’t imagine a world in which I insist on writing a schedule for my son to follow by the hour, nor the sort of near psychotic narcissism required to even think I have the right to do such a thing.

    • He slept like 8 hours. As a student younger than him I’d tell that after 8 hours I feel good
      I usually sleep 7… know the people worse at organizing time

    • Yeah I was going to say, Philip Hamilton died because of loss of blood due to the bullet in his left side. Or something. Not because he was sleep deprived.

    • He was the latest prodigy of Queen’s College. He hates to brag but dag, he amaze and astonish. The Problem is he has the same virtuosity and brain as his pops (the ladies say that’s not where the resemblance stops). Only 19 but his mind is older, gotta be his own man, like his father but bolder. He shoulders his legacy with pride he use to hear him say that one day he would



    • Duels were a standard test of honor at that time, but were thankfully on their way out. We can’t really judge him for it by today’s standards.

  4. Cal,
    Thanks for the great “Deep Advice”.
    The timeline for the set of rules does not add up for me:
    “After Dinner he reads law at home till five o’clock. From this hour till seven he disposes of his time as he pleases. From seven to ten he reads and studies what ever he pleases.”
    Ques: When is Dinner time? Is it at 2 or 3pm? The he reads till five o’clock?
    Anyone can chime in to help me out on this.

    • Good question. Dinner time changed throughout the years:
      “A Short History of [British] Mealtimes
      Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
      Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
      Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner
      1860s/Middle Class
      Breakfast 8AM (town), 9-10AM (country); Lunchoen 1-2PM; Dinner 6-8PM (depending upon formality and place)
      Early morning 8AM (tea, bread and butter); Breakfast 8-8:30AM; Luncheon Midday; Afternoon tea 5PM, Dinner 7:30-8PM
      Breakfast 8AM; Lunch/upper classes or Dinner/rest Midday-1PM; Afternoon tea 4PM; High tea 5-6PM; Dinner 7-8PM; Supper 9-10PM.
      —Consuming Culture: Why You Eat What You Eat, Jeremy MacClancy [Henry Holt:New York] 1992 (p. 61-66)

      Sorry if it’s a duplicate post. This is a shortened version of the previous post I submitted.

  5. Great historical document!
    As for me, after removing all notifications and online subscriptions to news agencies (even on FB/Twitter/etc) I recently rediscovered the pleasure of reading the newspaper… an *actual* printed newspaper delivered to my house every morning.
    I found out that not only I am not missing any worthwhile news, but that I am actually more informed than most people as there’s less noise (newspaper have to select their content due to limited space), more analysis, and I am avoiding wasting time on clickbaity articles. As a plus, I also avoid the comment section which is usually a waste of time. It’s truly refreshing.

  6. Seriously? Nobody here makes a mention to the Hamilton Broadway show?

    Then, allow me:

    “My name is Phillip. I am a poet
    I wrote this poem just to show it
    And I just turned nine
    You can write rhymes but you can’t write mine”

    • I practice French and play piano with my mother.
      I have a sister but I want a little brother.
      My father’s tryin ta start America’s bank
      Un deux trios Quatre CINQ!!!!!!!

  7. I think the point here is not how Philip ended up and whether he followed his father’s advice or not.

    The point here is what Alexander Hamilton has advised his son to do in the quoted letter. As Cal put it:

    “His schedule for his son was meant to trim waste and get right to the hard cognitive callisthenics needed to get Philip’s mind into shape”


    “Hamilton had learned through experience that doing anything worthwhile with your brain requires a foundation built on thousands of hours of deep work”

    Let’s think about Alexander’s advice rather than switching our attention to Philip’s death.

    • Valid comment, but maybe this schedule wound him a little tight and he got into the duel because of it, so there could be a possible correlation to discuss. (Full disclosure – I haven’t read the history of the duel…)

  8. Say what you want about how bad Social Media is… At least it does not drive young men to their death in foolish duels like the social media of Philip’s time did….

    We are stronger than that these days. Yes, I said stronger.

    • It’s too early to tell conclusively what is the impact of social media since it’s new phenomenon – but your observation is limited in scope. First of all, a duel has nothing to do with the form of communication. Duels simply became illegal, and society’s perspective on them and honor itself changed quite a bit since then. There’s absolutely no connection between the two elements. That would be like me saying that SM’s are bad because there are more victims of street racing than in the XVIII century.
      SM however is potentially tied to an increase of suicides amongst teen, and it is potentially tied to an increase of clinical depression amongst adults and teens. Anxiety and panic attacks might also be linked to SM. Initial studies point to a direct correlation between SM and psychological issues; some of them might lead to suicide.

    • Lol “we are stronger than that these days”, yeah we take machine guns and mow down people in public.
      I’d argue that we are infinitely weaker and less intelligent mainly because no one has time to study anything, they are so supersaturated with garbage data, known as “knowledge” these days.

  9. Although available online for over three years, The Devil Corp has yet to challenged in a court of law and that’s an amazing fact considering the nature of the site. Is their refusal to act an admission of guilt?

  10. Can’t help to think, while reading this, “ok, so somebody is doing your groceries, cooking your dinners, cleaning your home and doing your laundry”… Unavoidable discussion about sharing the housework, if Deep Work is to be accessible to all

  11. the idea od focus and discipline is something that is required when grasping law. to read was the most important thing since radio, TV, internet, i phone, etc were not invented. i was surprised that 1/2 hour a day of some form of exercise was not part of the routine schedule. it clears the brain. to wait to do that only on the weekend is not acceptable

  12. Food for thought: If Phillip (or his father) had known that his life would end just a year later, would he have engaged in the same pursuits? Or would he have spent more time doing something else?

    PS. Huge fan of the musical – His death still makes me cry every time.

    “Meet the latest graduate of King’s College!
    I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but, dag, I amaze and astonish!
    The scholars say I got the same virtuosity and brains as my pops!
    The ladies say my brain’s not where the resemblance stops!”

  13. Philip Hamilton (son of Alexander Hamilton died at the age of 82 , he was a lawyer,
    The other Philip Hamilton (older brother if Alex H) died in a duel

  14. It’s a nice article; however, I recommend a bit more exercise. Hamilton has his poor son reading about 10 hours a day and allots exactly zero hours for any physical activity.

  15. The mention of church attendance was overlooked in the previous comments. Much to be gained in the study of scripture wherein many laws are derived. Thou shall not kill with proper reflection may have prevented the entering into the duel.

  16. Glad Hamilton wasn’t my dad! (Mine was “bad” enough that way.) Talk about “controlling.” But I guess it really gives you an insight into (male) parenting in those days.

  17. Great advice! ….if you want to be a lawyer in the year 1800 without a partner, a family, a home of your own, or any interests that require you to travel outside of your own village. Id say this is not quite as relevant in the 21st century. But the good stuff is still in there – get good sleep, get educated, get time away from work to develop your own personality.

  18. Amended for our time
    Rise at 7:30 AM, get self and kid ready for the day till 8:30 AM.
    At 9 AM go to the office & continue there, lunch in between, until dinner time
    4:30 PM Dinner, after Dinner till 7 PM time as pleases.
    From 7 PM to 10 PM read a book or see TV
    10 PM will be the hour of going to bed throughout the year.
    From NOON on Saturday is at Liberty to amuse.
    On Sunday attend the morning congregation, rest of the day may be applied to recreations.

  19. I work in IT, electronics product development and Communications Security. I completely agree with the idea that structured study and work habits are very much more productive. I have learned that if I have a vexing technical problem to solve, I think about it while falling asleep and I will usually have a solution to it when I wake up the next morning. Sometimes the solution comes to me in the middle of the night while i’m sleeping; I get up, write notes about the solution procedures and go back to bed…

  20. Obviously for a upper class family that has servants because no household chores or children need to be taken care of.

  21. This is interesting but if you do the math he is working about 9 hours a day (I assume 30 min spent eating breakfast and 30 min dressing). As a current law student, I can report more is expected 1L year and a little less as a 2L and 3L. Much more will be expected as an associate at a law firm. The more I learn about the work habits of the past, the more I come to believe we are insanely over-working ourselves in this era, at least in America.

  22. At 90 I am fraught with finding enough time to really get deep into work. The mind is influenced by more then external distractions. The body senses needs that cannot be ignored. The older I get the more body distractions I experience. Deep thought is a challenge for an 18 year old but without so many internal distractions.

  23. he was shot and deserved it that shit bag was the reason that a central bank for the country was even thought of and was the only champion voice of a central bank in the founding of our country and i belive he was shot by the third vice POTUS under Jefferson

  24. Interesting, but failure to have any personal branding, or interaction in social media can be seen as a modern day versions of deloping.

  25. I work at home, and I am reassured that this schedule sounds very much like mine. To accomplish any goal, you have to structure your time. Structuring your time not only allows you gradually to reach your goals, but also reassures every one who depends on you–employers, family, children, and pets. Otherwise, no one can rely on you, and you end up rudderless, dissipated, and wasted. Establish habits of work, and your life will have value and meaning, even if there are short intervals that may seem constricted.

  26. It is crucial to remember that Hamilton was in an age where print technology ruled. It was the primary mode of of communication. Not so, today. We skittered along on a electronic, digital-age surface which is in direct conflict with linear, sequential logic borne from literacy.

  27. Yes, we need to read and think deeply and also work practically. We also need to fantasize a bit, though, and not totally quash our daydreaming, which can lead to being deeply productive. Einstein, among many others, pointed out the importance of the imagination. After all, how can you build something that has never existed unless you first imagine it?

  28. Hamilton’s association with Wm Morris (as his assistant), is a little explored tidbit of what has (in some ways) been wrong with our government from the get-go.

    IMPO, Hamilton in not worthy of the attention he’s received lately. For a more thorough treatment of what he did during the Revolutionary War, I refer your readers to “The History of Money and Banking in America”, by Murray Rothbard.

    You can get it for free, as a PDF file here:

  29. Philip Hamilton still gets 2 hours a day to do whatever he wants. He also has and then another 3 hours of study, but on something other than his primary subject of law. It also hints that Sunday is the only full day off because it sounds as if he is expected to read and study whatever hours he can manage up to 12 noon.

  30. Actually, it does not seem rigorous at all. It sounds like a good balance between hard cognitive work and a little r&r in between. I can’t wait to implement a more structured schedule to see what I can accomplish during my days. Thanks for the thoughts!

  31. This seems like good advice but i am having difficulty in trying to apply it in our modern world. It seems rigorous and might not work if one has a family to take care of.

  32. Deep advice indeed its good to note 8 hours of sleep will do you good but its sad he was going to be a loner with such a hectic schedule.

  33. This advice is darn brilliant, at face value it sounds exceptionally rigorous, but in such a focused and disciplined approach; therein lies character and success. The father also had the presence of mind to allocate a healthy amount of time for recreation. I might as well adopt this advice for myself and later pass it on to my son


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