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How to Have a 3 Hour Work Day! Lessons from Eugene Schwartz

(Above Picture: A Sample of Eugene Schwartz’s Work)

Eugene Schwartz, one of advertising’s greatest copywriters, only worked three hours a day for five days week.

Yet he called himself “the world’s hardest-working copywriter.”

How to Work for Three Hours a Day

Schwartz accomplished this feat by breaking up his day into small chunks. He’d set a timer for 33.33 minutes and force himself to write, read, and think without any coffee breaks, thumb-twiddling, or vacant staring. When his timer buzzed, he’d stop what he was doing, take a 10 minute break, and repeat the process until he finished his three-hour-day.

The routine paid dividends for Schwartz and he managed to write successful direct mail copy while authoring 10 books.

But Schwartz’s legacy has been hijacked by the people in his own field. If you Google Schwartz you get a slew of sites trying to sell his interviews, ideas, and writing strategies and they all employ the same sensationalist, ‘act-now’, language Schwartz helped pioneer. We don’t get to know Schwartz, we’re just told to spend $297 to learn how you to can become a “master copywriter.”

Still, it’s worth exploring Schwartz’s work ethic to see how we can learn from it. He was, after all, the best in his field.

Copywriting is a mix of writing, analysis, and design and Schwartz believed the only way to master all of these elements was to be prepared. He put it simply, “the person who is more prepared…makes the most money.”

Schwartz’s Work Strategy

Schwartz would get five weeks to write copy for a product. Here’s how he did it:

1. He’d take two weeks and get to know the product better than it’s creator. Schwartz routinely got manuscripts that were over 1,000 pages long explaining the product or service he was charged with selling. Schwartz would read through the manuscripts and underline any and all statements that made significant claims. He read every word and skipped the table of contents. He wanted to read every sentence without knowing what might come next. He said, “I’d get the guts, the heart, the meat, and the gist of [any] manuscript.”

2. He would type all of the important claims into one document and organize them for two weeks. Usually, this document would be around 60 pages. He’d take great care to separate what statements moved him the most.

3. Finally, Schwartz would begin writing copy–leaving the title and subtitles for last. He’d also begin his search for the right illustrations for the ad.

4. During the last few days Schwartz would edit and re-edit all of his copy to make sure it was perfect. He said, “I want to be more accurate and more knowledgeable than anyone I come up against.” Schwartz reasoned that if he took the extra time, he’d always do better than his younger, brighter, counterparts.


When you glance at Schwartz’s old direct mail ads, you don’t think they took five weeks of labor. They look crammed, busy, and ripped out of a cheap comic-book. But on closer inspection, you can tell each word is there for a reason and there aren’t any extraneous phrases sticking around to fill space. It’s all good, lean, prose that informs.

It’s hard to see the beauty of Schwartz’s work when we have websites with vibrant colors, video, and pictures–but if you look close enough you can see it. Schwartz’s ads were proven to consistently get people to buy and it was because he worked hard to understand what he was talking about, instead of splashing together catch-phrases and intriguing pictures.

And he did this all without working “impossible hours.”

BLG Leadership Insights Social Media

Controversial Content, GASP!, Equals Social Media Success

Michael Lazerow is CEO of Buddy Media–a company that helps companies brand themselves on Facebook.

Mr. Lazerow, in an interview with Advertising Age, believes that  “roughly two-thirds of a companies Facebook content should be controversial in nature.”

Controversial content, Mr. Lazerow concludes, drives Facebook users to comment, ‘like’ posts, and interact with a company’s larger Facebook page.

The article in Advertising Age cautiously concludes that opinions, jokes, winks, and inside references attract more attention than typical promotional statements on social media sites.

It’s a wonder no one stopped the presses.

To illustrate the point three Facebook status updates from the Oreo Company are supplied along with the number of people who actively ‘liked’ the post and the number of people who replied to the post.

  • “Ever try dunking an Oreo cookie with a fork or anything else?” 8,200 likes and 2,300 comments
  • “Pick a flavor, any flavor! If you could create a new Oreo cream flavor, what would it be?” 7,100 likes, 12,500 comments
  • “Pop quiz: Twist, lick, then…” 6,500 likes, 6,200 comments

The last query, a thinly veiled sexual joke turned post, attracted the most attention, ‘likes’, and comments.

Proof at last that people would rather join in on a blue joke than help a company come up with its future products!

It should be obvious to anyone mounting a social media campaign that honest, open, direct talk will be  accepted over promotional phrases regurgitated by copy writers.

What’s odd about the article in Advertising Age and ones like it are their treatment and perception of social media platforms. Their tone belongs more to a bewildered 19th century man who is at home in a bowler than to someone comfortable with the habits and norms of social media.

Worse, it’s an odd lesson to teach. Business magazines and blogs are dedicating their front pages to tell  marketing departments across the globe that they should stop whatever they were doing, pick up social media, and talk from the heart–not the index of an old Marketing 101 textbook.

Who, one wonders, needs this wake-up call?

I’m being a bit cynical and I’ll admit these articles have a purpose and place.  They are useful for waving in front of social-media-phobic bosses and they help people learn from the mistakes of others.

I just wish that they wouldn’t talk about social media with the caution and vocabulary of an academic. When they say controversial language attracts more attention they should really say: don’t be afraid of have an opinion and make a joke. It’s social media–not a marketing algorithm.

Leadership On the Edge

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