An obsession with productivity is an American past time: What you know, might know, and probably don’t know about Thomas Jefferson — PART ONE

First to pen the Declaration of Independence, first secretary of state, first president to buy nearly a million acres… Thomas Jefferson was a man of firsts.

But that stuff’s known.

Less known is how Thomas Jefferson was among the first American lifehackers. He attached a revolving book holder to his desk so he could have five books open at a time. (Twenty sat at his feet.)


(It is unclear if he was multi-tasking or simply being an efficient cross-referencer, but his output suggests the latter.)

Jefferson also attached an apparatus to his pen that replicated everything he wrote. Yes, not only did he photocopy before photocopying was a thing, he did it simultaneously as he wrote. Early American auto-save and cloud backup.

Credit: Jim Merithew/

Credit: Jim Merithew/

(Oh, and candleholders in office chairs? He started those too.)

Wired magazine sums it all up:

He is someone who was trying to adapt the latest technology in every realm of existence: science, how the house functions, in the garden. He is trying to put into use new ideas[.]

More important than the above (after all, tools are not productive in and of themselves), and perhaps lesser known, are the principles behind Jefferson’s approach to work and life. 

There is much more to be learned from principles than technologies.

As I describe in the forthcoming Part Two, not all of Jefferson’s productivity principles were sound. He was, in some ways, not a “long term person” at all. Still, there is much to learn. 

Keep an eye out for Part Two and subsequent posts re: presidential productivity, . 


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