Benjamin Franklin: the grandfather of personal productivity?

August 28th, 2009 by james

A few years ago I visited the Huntington Library in Los Angeles. We spent most of our time poking around the beautiful gardens, enjoying the Californian sun. But the Library collection is pretty remarkable too and it holds copies of the Gutenberg bible, Audubon’s bird drawings, early Shakespeare editions and – a definite highlight – Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.

I’m not sure why I suddenly remembered this now, almost four years later, but when he wasn’t experimenting with electricity and founding countries, Franklin was also a bit of a productivity guru. Check out this extract from Chapter 8 of his autobiography (click for bigger):

Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule

He was pretty keen on everything having its own allocated time, supporting what he called the virtue of Order. He never seemed to be quite satisfied with the progress he made (bit hard on himself really) but the interesting thing, I think, is that you can see him actively reflecting on his progress and acknowledging its benefit. Check out these extracts:

I enter’d upon the Execution of this Plan for Self Examination, and continu’d it with occasional Intermissions for some time. I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of Faults than I had imagined, but I had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish.

And later:

In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it

So there you go: Benjamin Franklin, the grandfather of personal productivity c. 1791. As if he hadn’t done enough already!

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you !

One Response to “Benjamin Franklin: the grandfather of personal productivity?”

  1. Says:

    This is very similar to what I (following the success stories of other people) come up to:

    1. You have to decide in the morning what problem you are going to solve today
    (or have a list of other more global goals that you can achieve in your life only by working steadily every day and over a long period of time i.e. allocate time for your work, for your health, for your family, etc.).

    2. It is important to have a day schedule
    i.e. have a dedicated time-frame for each of your problems (long enough to be able to achieve something) but you have to stop when you reach the allocated time limit and switch to another problem that you planned for this day.

    1 and 2 are interconnected.
    During your work on any problem you will most likely open a new can of worms and will tend to try to solve them today extending the time allocated for the initial problem. This makes you fail on the other problems that you planned to work on initially and putting you behind the schedule.
    This will definitely happen if you hadn’t the schedule at all.

    You have to make a conscious decision in advance and then adhere to it, otherwise your subconsciousness will win while you are in a burden of being busy with something else (because people are bad at multi-tasking e.g. thinking of the problem and creating the schedule for the next problem at the same time).

    By the way this is exactly the advice to become an early riser (you have to make a resolution in the evening of getting up early next day).

Leave a Reply