Poincaré's work habits have been compared to a bee flying from flower to flower. Poincaré was interested in the way his mind worked; he studied his habits and gave a talk about his observations in 1908 at the Institute of General Psychology in Paris. He linked his way of thinking to how he made several discoveries.
The mathematician Darboux claimed he was un intuitif (intuitive), arguing that this is demonstrated by the fact that he worked so often by visual representation. He did not care about being rigorous and disliked logic. He believed that logic was not a way to invent but a way to structure ideas and that logic limits ideas.
Poincaré's mental organisation was not only interesting to Poincaré himself but also to Toulouse, a psychologist of the Psychology Laboratory of the School of Higher Studies in Paris. Toulouse wrote a book entitled Henri Poincaré (1910). In it, he discussed Poincaré's regular schedule:
He worked during the same times each day in short periods of time. He undertook mathematical research for four hours a day, between 10 a.m. and noon then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.. He would read articles in journals later in the evening.
His normal work habit was to solve a problem completely in his head, then commit the completed problem to paper.
He was ambidextrous and nearsighted.
His ability to visualise what he heard proved particularly useful when he attended lectures, since his eyesight was so poor that he could not see properly what the lecturer wrote on the blackboard.
These abilities were offset to some extent by his shortcomings:
He was physically clumsy and artistically inept.
He was always in a rush and disliked going back for changes or corrections.
He never spent a long time on a problem since he believed that the subconscious would continue working on the problem while he consciously worked on another problem.
In addition, Toulouse stated that most mathematicians worked from principles already established while Poincaré started from basic principles each time (O'Connor et al., 2002).
His method of thinking is well summarised as:
Habitué à négliger les détails et à ne regarder que les cimes, il passait de l'une à l'autre avec une promptitude surprenante et les faits qu'il découvrait se groupant d'eux-mêmes autour de leur centre étaient instantanément et automatiquement classés dans sa mémoire. (Accustomed to neglecting details and to looking only at mountain tops, he went from one peak to another with surprising rapidity, and the facts he discovered, clustering around their center, were instantly and automatically pigeonholed in his memory.)