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Productivity Hints from Booker T. Washington

Productivity Hints from Booker T. Washington



    When life gets hard, when things don’t go my way, when a project doesn’t quite work out the way I planned, or when I want to sleep but can’t—like right now—I think of thinkers and leaders from the past and I remind myself that things could be much, much worse. 

    Friedrich Hayek had to flee when the London School of Economics was moved to Cambridge during World War II (his friend and intellectual rival John Maynard Keynes apparently helped him find accommodations). 

    Ludwig von Mises was chased out of Europe by the Nazis. 

    The Apostle Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned, and all sorts of horrible things. 

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    Millions of people have lived as slaves.

    One of those people was Booker T. Washington, who would have been 155 this month.

    Washington’s Up From Slavery is one of most inspiring books I’ve ever read ($0 version here).  It tells Washington’s story of going from slavery, poverty, and illiteracy to a position of intellectual and moral leadership in the United States and the world.

    It includes an interesting chapter entitled “The Secret of Success in Public Speaking.”  In it, Washington details the habits that made him a successful educator, public speaker, fundraiser, and leader.  Principles of “effective leadership and action”—which is one of the key clauses in my institution’s Vision statement—are evident throughout.  Here are a few highlights from a very rich chapter in a very rich book:

    1.  Do what you believe in, and believe in what you’re doing. 

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    Here’s Washington: “I believe that one always does himself and his audience an injustice when he speaks merely for the sake of speaking.  I do not believe that one should speak unless, deep down in his heart, he feels convinced that he has a message to deliver.” 

    Have you ever been in an audience where it was clear that the speaker wasn’t passionate about his subject matter?  Bored speakers create bored audiences; if the speaker doesn’t care about what he or she is saying, why should the audience?  Also, your time and energy are very scarce.   Devote them only to tasks that deserve them.

    2.  “The number of people who stand ready to consume one’s time, to no purpose, is almost countless.” 

    In a series of entertaining examples Washington discusses some of his dealings with people who want to consume his time and attention with schemes for saving the world by closing all the national banks, for example, or by adopting a particular process for cultivation of a particular type of corn. 

    I’m sure we all have story upon story about how we have wasted others’ time or had our own time wasted.  That such a thing would occur should not be surprising.  Over time, however, we learn how to install the right filters that increase the signal-to-noise ratio in the information we receive.

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    3.  Success involves inspiration, perspiration, and delegation. 

    Here’s Washington again:  “I am often asked how it is possible for me to superintend the work at Tuskegee and at the same time be so much away from the school.  In partial answer to this I would say that I think I have learned, in some degree at least, to disregard the old maxim which says, ‘Do not get others to do that which you can do yourself.’  My motto, on the other hand, is ‘Do not do that which others can do as well.’” 

    In short, Washington anticipated one of Timothy Ferriss’s most important principles by about 100 years.  Washington writes that, at the time, “the organization is so thorough that the daily work of the school is not dependent upon the presence of any one individual.” 

    In the language of modern-day business books, by surrounding himself with trusted, talented people, and by integrating them into effective workflow processes, Booker T. Washington was able to leverage the talents of those around him and create value for himself, his organization, and his organization’s stakeholders.

    4.  Staying organized and on top of things. 

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    His is a routine that might work for some people but not for others; the fact of the matter, though, is that he did what needed to be done.  Washington also found dignity in his work.  In this respect, it’s worth quoting him at length:

    “As far as I can, I make it a rule to plan for each day’s work—not merely to go through with the same routine of daily duties, but to get rid of the routine work as early in the day as possible, and then to enter upon some new or advance work.  I make it a rule to clear my desk every day, before leaving my office, of all correspondence and memoranda, so that on the morrow I can begin a new day of work.  I make it a rule never to let my work drive me, but to so master it, and keep it in such complete control, and to keep so far ahead of it, that I will be the master instead of the servant.  There is a physical and mental and spiritual enjoyment that comes from a consciousness of being the absolute master of one’s work, in all its details, that is very satisfactory and inspiring.   My experience teaches me that, if one learns to follow this plan, he gets a freshness of body and vigour of mind out of work that goes a long way toward keeping him strong and healthy.  I believe that when one can grow to the point where he loves his work, this gives him a kind of strength that is most valuable.”

    Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery is an inspiring tour de force from an American hero.  Among other things, it shows how someone who started with nothing—not even a right to his own person—was able to change the world. He still has much to teach us, and his lessons on productivity remain relevant even today.

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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success

    50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success

    Let’s face it – no matter how excited you are about a new project or priority in your life, there will always be days when your motivation lags. Days when – despite all the progress you’ve made in the past – it just sounds easier to sit on the couch playing video games than to buckle down and crank out the work needed to meet your goals.

    In order to be successful, you must be able to motivate yourself past these humps. Whenever you feel your drive and determination lagging, turn to these motivational quotes for work to provide the extra spark of passion needed to keep you on track.

    Quotes about Goal Setting

    Whether you’re still in the planning phases of your business or whether you’re plotting a plan of attack to bring about your long-range vision, setting good goals is a critical part of succeeding in business.

    Check out these quotes for extra inspiration on how to turn your dreams into reality:

    quote-Benjamin-E.-Mays-the-tragedy-in-life-doesnt-lie-in-106113

      “The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”– Benjamin Mays


      “By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own.”–Mark Victor Hansen


      “Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty.”–William J. Bennett – The Book of Virtues


      “The entrepreneur is essentially a visualizer and actualizer… He can visualize something, and when he visualizes it he sees exactly how to make it happen.”–Robert L. Schwartz

      Quotes about Achieving Excellence in Work

      Once you’ve got your goals together, you’ll need to put in 110% of your effort in order to transform these visions into reality. To increase your motivation to work at a consistently high level, take a look at the following words of wisdom:

      “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”–Aristotle


      “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”–Charles R. Swindoll

      Desire is the key to motivation

        “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”–Mario Andretti


        “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”–Pearl Buck


        “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”–Vince Lombardi

        Quotes about Determination and Persistence

        Since every business or other endeavor is bound to hit some rough patches, it’s often a person’s level of determination and patience that brings about either success or failure. These positive quotes give you an extra boost of encouragement:

        “Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses… on your powers, instead of your problems.”–Paul J. Meyer


        “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”–Hal Borland


        “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”–Calvin Coolidge

        quote-Thomas-Fuller-an-invincible-determination-can-accomplish-almost-anything-92190

          “An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.”–Thomas Fuller

          Quotes about Leadership

          Whether you use it to engage your employees, to encourage teamwork or motivate others to follow your unique way of thinking, leadership is crucial. Take your leadership cues from these renowned leaders’ famous sayings:

          “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” –Warren G. Bennis


          “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”–John Kenneth Galbraith

          Leadership is not magnetic personality

            “Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”–Peter F. Drucker


            “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.”–John Buchan


            “High sentiments always win in the end. The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.”–George Orwell

            Quotes for Success

            Think of success as a holistic process – one which results from the combination of goal-setting, excellence, patience, determination and leadership you prioritize throughout your career. These highly successful people provide you with an excellent source of motivation:

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            “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.”–Stephen Covey


            “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”–Norman Vincent Peale

            Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

              “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”–Winston Churchill


              “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.”–John Maxwell


              “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”– Thomas J. Watson


              “The great successful men of the world have used their imagination.  They think ahead and create their mental picture in all its details, filling in here, adding a little there, altering this a bit and that a bit, but steadily building – steadily building.”–Robert Collier


              “It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.”–Arnold Toynbee

              Sports Quotes for Athletes

              You don’t need to be a Michael Jordan-caliber athlete to draw inspiration from the following quotes. Even if you’re just a recreational player or someone who’s using sports as a means to get back in shape after long periods of inactivity, the following motivational sports quotes will encourage you:

              “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”–Michael Jordan


              “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”–Lance Armstrong

              Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.

                “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”–Arnold Schwarzenegger


                “I know what I have to do, and I’m going to do whatever it takes. If I do it, I’ll come out a winner, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does.”–Florence Griffith Joyner


                “Every time you stay out late; every time you sleep in; every time you miss a workout; every time you don’t give 100% – You make it that much easier for me to beat you.”–Unknown


                “If you are hurt, whether in mind or body, don’t nurse your bruises. Get up and light-heartedly, courageously, good temperedly get ready for the next encounter. This is the only way to take life – this is also ‘playing’ the game!”–Emily Post


                “We must train from the inside out. Using our strengths to attack and nullify any weaknesses. It’s not about denying a weakness may exist but about denying its right to persist.”–Vince McConnell

                Quotes to Motivate Learning

                Committing yourself to pursuing knowledge in a single area is a tremendous endeavor – one that often seems overwhelming given the depth and breadth of information that’s available today. Keep the following motivational quotes in mind if you’re learning:

                “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”–George Washington Carver

                quote-William-Arthur-Ward-if-you-can-imagine-it-you-can-36189

                  “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward


                  “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”– Aristotle


                  “Success is not the key to happiness.Happiness is the key to success.If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”–Albert Schweitzer


                  “Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one.”–Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield


                  “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”–Chinese Proverb


                  “Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.”–William Arthur Ward


                  “Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life’.”–Helen Exley


                  “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.”–Chinese Proverb

                  All-Time Favorite Positive Quotes

                  Finally, whatever your goals are in life, you can’t go wrong by taking the advice of the following famous motivational quotes:

                  “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”–Norman Vincent Peale


                  “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”–Steve Jobs


                  “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”–Maria Robinson


                  “Out of clutter, find Simplicity. From discord, find Harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.”–Albert Einstein


                  “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”–Lyndon Johnson

                  If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

                    “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”–Thomas Edison


                    “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”–Wayne Gretzky


                    “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”–Winston Churchill


                    “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

                    Final Thoughts

                    To use these motivational quotes effectively, find the one that speaks to you. Although all of the phrases listed above can be considered “motivational,” only you can decide which one resonates with you most directly.

                    Next, take the quote you’ve settled on and copy it onto small index cards or other pieces of paper that can be stored around your home and workspace.

                    If you’re creative, you can create inspiration boards, signs or other decorative displays featuring your favorite motivational quotes – really, though, the most important thing is that your chosen phrase be accessible in a variety of different places. This will make it easy to access and review whenever you feel your motivation slipping away.

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                    Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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