Napoleon said: “Great men are rarely seen to fail, even in their most hazardous undertakings. If we study the causes of their successes, we are astounded to see all they did in order to gain them.”
In the fall of 1806, on the evening before the battle of Jena-Auerstadt, Napoleon recognized that a French victory depended on their securing a certain hill. The hill had, however, only a single, narrow track, up which the French could not possibly move men and artillery. A staff officer records: “Napoleon sent at once for 4,000 pioneering tools from the wagons of the engineers and artillery, and he ordered that every battalion should work in turn for an hour at widening and leveling the path.” The French worked through the night, “lighted at their work by torches,” Napoleon himself at first supervising them. By morning, 25,000 men and 42 pieces of artillery stood atop the hill.
Success, said Napoleon, is “the infinite capacity for taking pains.”
The German historian Christian Meier said that “Caesar viewed difficulties simply as tasks.” While simultaneously conquering Gaul and directing affairs in Rome, Caesar wrote the The Gallic War and On the Selection of Words (a work on Latin grammar), while under siege in the palace of Alexandria, The Civil War, while traveling to Spain to fight Gnaeus Pompey, The Journey (a long poem), following that victory, the Anticato (an attack on one of the leading optimates), and, all the while, voluminous speeches, letters, and other works.
Caesar would accustom his soldiers to toil as well. Suetonius wrote that Caesar would make the soldiers “turn out when there was no need at all, especially in wet weather or on public holidays. Sometimes he would say, ‘Keep a close eye on me!’ and then steal away from camp at any hour of the day or night, expecting them to follow. It was certain to be a particularly long march…”
Richelieu would work from 2:00 until 5:00 each morning; sleep until 9:00; work from then until 11:00; walk in his garden with friends; take lunch; work until the evening; take dinner; walk in his garden; and then work until 11:00 ¾ a 14-hour or so day, every day. Richelieu fought continuously both within (the devots, les grands, and the Huguenots) and without (the Habsburgs) France.
“Work is my element,” said Napoleon. “I was born and made for work. I have recognized the limits of my eyesight and of my legs, but never the limits of my working power.” It was not unusual for Napoleon to work eighteen or twenty hours a day, while eating, while in bed, while at the opera. One historian noted that even his enemies “admitted that his capacity for work was beyond compare; that, at least, of four men in one.” During the 15 years of his rule, Napoleon dictated 80,000 or so letters and orders — roughly fifteen a day.
Of Gates one Microsoft programmer said, “Bill did it all. He was the salesman, the technical leader, the lawyer, the businessman… You could go on and on.” Gates’s “seven-hour turnaround” was renowned: at night, he would return to Microsoft within seven hours of leaving it.