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7 Productivity Tips From Ben Franklin

7 Productivity Tips From Ben Franklin

If you are looking for ways to simplify your life, increase your productivity, and make a larger impact on the world around you, I suggest you study the life and work of Ben Franklin, the most influential American of the Revolutionary days. I recently read through his autobiography and discovered that Franklin was a curious character: a true Renaissance man, single-handedly revolutionizing the colonies through his work. A printer by profession, Franklin founded the first nationwide newsletter, Poor Richard’s Almanack, and used it as a medium to spread practical and moral advice through the colonies. He also made fundamental contributions to the earliest civil departments in the soon-to-be-independent colonies. As an amateur scientist, he also discovered new approaches in 18th century physics and meteorology. We could go on and on – the list of his accomplishments and awards would fill 20 pages.

The manner in which Franklin lived is remarkably simple. He lays it out in his autobiography. Here are 7 key takeaways from how he was able to create such a vast impact on the course of US history in just one life time.

(1) Develop A Plan For Your Life – And Write It Down

Franklin describes how, during a transatlantic ship journey he took in his early twenties, he wrote down a plan for his entire life. Towards the end of his life, he rediscovered this plan in one of his journals, and was astonished at how closely his life course fit with his early plan for it – even though he was not purposefully carrying the plan out.

This overarching plan gave Franklin a sense for the overall direction of his life. He took to implementing it. You can do the same with a written plan for what you want to do with your life. You can consider what you want to have, who you want to be around, where you want to go, and what you want to do with your life. Write out 5 central plans for each of these. Now, save the paper you have written it on, or record it online, then later in life you can review this to see how you are progressing.

(2) Build A Consistent Day-to-Day Schedule

Franklin planned out his schedule for the 6 working days of each week, and maintained it for the majority of his working life. This allowed him to adjust to a routine. His detailed schedule included time for organizing, accounting, and leisure. Notice how simple the plan is. It only includes 6 actual working hours, yet Franklin was able to use this to great effect in his life. Also note the hour he devoted to organizing his space each day, and the questions he asked himself each morning and evening.

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5: Rise, wash.
6: Powerful goodness! The morning. Morning prayer and plan for the day. [He asks himself], “What good business shall I do today?”
7: Study, and breakfast.
8-12: Work.
12-2: Read or overlook accounts, and dine.
2-4: Work.
4-6: Evening rest.
6: Put things in their places, ie: cleaning and organizing
7: Reflect on the day with the question: “What good have I done today?”
8: Supper, music, or diversion, or conversation
9: Examination of the day
10: Sleep

There is a saying: take care of your routine, and your routine will take care of you. Franklin did this and he notes it was a crucial element of his success.

(3) Generate A List Of Principles On Which To Base Your Life

Our life principles are like an operating system for our behavior. They govern how we run our lives. Franklin was quite explicit in determining how he lived his life. The short version is that he inspired to follow Jesus and Socrates. The longer version of his principles, as outlined in his autobiography:

“Temperance – avoiding eating so much as to dull the senses, and drinking not to elevation
Silence – speaking only when it is of benefit to self or others, and avoiding far-flung conversation
Order – letting all things have their places, and giving each part of one’s business its due time
Resolution – resolving to perform one’s duty, and performing without fail what you resolved to do
Frugality – waste nothing, and make no expense but what is beneficial to oneself and others
Industry – not wasting time, always being employed in something useful, and cutting off all unnecessary actions
Sincerity – making no hurtful deceit, thinking innocently and justly, and speaking accordingly
Justice – wrong no one by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are one’s duty
Moderation – avoid extremes, forbear resenting injury, so much as you think they deserve
Cleanliness – tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation
Tranquility – be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable
Chastity
Humility
Imitate Jesus and Socrates”

If you generate a similar list of principles on which you operate – and write it down – you will have a guide on which to base your actions in the world. You may deviate from it at times, as all humans do, but having the principles set in ink, or memorialized on a computer, will give you a clear reference point for how to carry yourself.

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(4) Focus On Solving Problems That Surround You

Benjamin Franklin was able to build massive influence and create a lasting impression in human affairs, yet in his autobiography he never indicates if he had great aspirations. Instead, he simply focused on solving the immediate problems surrounding him.

The first problem he had as a young independent man who had just arrived in Philadelphia was creating a stable income. He solved this problem by inquiring with local printers, then using his expertise with books to get a entry-level job as printer’s apprentice. He slowly worked his way up and established his own printer’s shop, all the while actively engaging in commercial printing activities such as his Poor Richard’s Almanack. By the middle of his life, he says he built up sufficient wealth, enough to live on comfortably for the remainder of his life.

During this time he also devoted himself to solving problems he encountered in Philadelphia and the colonies. He found that Philadelphia lacked a professional security force. The growing city was experiencing a nighttime crime problem and the security officers were unable to keep up with it. So, Franklin persuaded shopkeepers of the city to contribute a monthly fund to pay the salary of a more professional and organized security department, effectively an early version of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Another problem Franklin noticed and set out to solve was when he found that dust from the streets of Philadelphia blew into the shops, making them dirty and unwelcoming. He began to look for a solution, and one day noticed an older lady who developed an efficient method for sweeping a nearby street, utilizing the gutter system. Franklin took this idea and implemented a systematic method for removing clutter from the streets, involving repaved roads, strategically designed gutters, and a garbage disposal department. Again, he was able to raise the money for this from local shopkeepers, whose business would benefit from a tidier city.

Franklin also developed a number of other solutions to problems facing his surrounding citizens and the colonies-at-large, including introducing a fire department, a new stove system, and the academy that would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania.

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What was the key to all of these creations of Franklin’s? Again, he focused on the problems directly around him, and set out to develop solutions for them. Many of these solutions later became introduced on a broader scale in the young American nation.

(5) Don’t Limit Yourself To One Role

“Specialization Is For Insects”

Franklin is renowned for his skills as printer, inventor, and statesman; however, he never saw himself as fitting into any one role. He instead developed a wide range of interests, and worked in these as a devoted amateur. His amateur status did not hold him back, though. Instead, he saw every area he studied with fresh eyes.

This amateur status actually aided his inventive capacity. He was less constrained by the reigning ideas of the time, so he was better positioned to introduce radical new ways of thinking about the world, whether in society or natural law. One example of this was his well-known discovery surrounding lightning and electricity. At his time, electricity was seen as more of a curiosity or matter of entertainment at science shows, rather than a matter for serious inquiry.

Franklin; however, wasn’t satisfied with the explanation of electricity he was given by a physicist at a Boston exhibition. He thus devoted himself almost entirely to the study of electricity for a period of years. He ultimately discovered the connection between lightning and electricity, as well as the concept of positive and negative charge. Franklin’s fresh approach to electricity – and many other areas of science – were not possible for someone in the established scientific establishment.

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It may be somewhat more difficult for an amateur to make radical new discoveries in this highly specialized age, but Franklin’s model of being an amateur thinker in a wide variety of areas still works.

(6) Look After Yourself First

It may sound radical, but Franklin’s life shows us that we are better equipped to be productive and impactful if we take care of ourselves first. Frankin’s first mission after leaving home at 17 was to build his personal financial independence. He went to work as a printer’s apprentice, and at the age of 24 began his own printing shop. He focused this early period on developing his business prowess, and at a relatively young age gained the financial independence that allowed him to work freely on whatever he wanted to.

As Franklin put it: just as an empty potato sack cannot stand upright, so a person who lives in poverty cannot live virtuously.

(7) Disagree, But Don’t Be Disagreeable

Franklin developed a personal ambiance that served him well, even when dealing with personal or national enemies. He notes in his autobiography that, during the days leading up to the Revolution, he encountered an envoy from Britain on the streets of Boston. Even though they disagreed about the basic policies regarding the American colonies, Franklin and the envoy still enjoyed a friendly walk, dinner, and conversation over wine.

This habit helped Franklin in negotiations with the British, and later gained Franklin a position as ambassador to France, where he was widely loved by the people of Paris.

If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating historical character, I encourage you to read his autobiography. It is full of anecdotes and tidbits about life in the American colonies in the 18th century, as seen through the lenses of this down-to-Earth yet larger-than-life man.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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