I Lived a Day According to Ben Franklin’s Schedule and It Changed My Life

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Long before to-do-list apps existed Benjamin Franklin was providing us with a daily schedule for success.

Long before to-do-list apps existed Benjamin Franklin was providing us with a daily schedule for success. Considering that my current reminder/checklist system consists of emailing myself tasks, I figured a day living by a Founding Father’s plan would be a fantastic experiment. Would a 222 year old daily routine still work? Would it be so effective I would want to start my own country?

What follows is my experience with the routine Franklin recommended in his 1791 autobiography. His plan is in bold and what I did follows after. Here is his proposed schedule.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1791

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1791

5AM-8AM: The morning question, What good shall I do today? Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast.

The 5AM wakeup time was gnarly, but the rest of the morning routine was great because it removed all traces of my usual morning rush. I had more time to brush my teeth, floss (don’t usually do that, don’t judge me!), and pick out a pretty fly outfit. I took “contrive day’s business” to mean I should set out some goals for the day and “prosecute the present study” as me setting up a clear plan on how to accomplish them. I set four work goals and three personal goals, including one which was to give out 3 compliments to satisfy the “good today” portion of the schedule. I never set goals for individual work days so this aspect was welcome. Breakfast was the pan-dulces my girlfriend and I recently got in East LA (wonder what Franklin would think about those) and green tea. As for the first part on reflecting on “Powerful Goodness,” it was nothing less than mind melting. I don’t know about you, but I NEVER wake up and think about God/Fate/The Universe. I found that considering it injected a purpose to my daily goals and connected me to something larger than myself. I found myself asking: Who am I in the face of the Universe if not just a bro who wants to get stuff done?

8AM-12PM Work.

Upon arriving at work, I wrote my earlier established goals down and kept them on my desk. With them in mind, I was actually more focused on what I should be accomplishing. Not surprisingly, the 5AM wakeup snuck up on me and I needed some coffee to keep me going. Good thing Franklin liked coffee.

12PM-2PM Read or overlook my accounts, and dine.

Franklin was a successful businessman so I imagine he had more legitimate accounts to manage than I do. I used this as time to examine the accounts I had: my bank account and my social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube). This involved wishing people happy birthday, purging some friends (again, don’t judge me), and throwing some retweets and likes out there. This was immensely satisfying. It felt like I was assessing my (small) dominion of the online variety. After all, what “accounts” do we really have these days? As for the eating I tackled a titanic burrito and dreamed of adding Burrito Baron to my Nacho King title. However, the nicest part of this time block was the reading because I felt like it re-charged my brain. If you’re wondering, I’m currently reading “The Sister’s Brothers” by Patrick Dewitt and it’s fantastic.

2PM-5PM Work.

I ended up having a 6PM work meeting pop up, but even Franklin himself found the demands of business sometimes modified his schedule, so I was not phased by it. By the time I left work I had actually accomplished 3 out of the 4 goals I established for myself. Honestly, I would have done them even if I wasn’t on Franklin’s schedule but it still felt great to check off those goals.

5PM -10PM Evening question, what good have I done today? Put things in their places, supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day.

Even when I’m not following Franklin’s guidance I usually tidy up, eat, and relax when I get home from work, so none of that felt new. However, the examination of the day part was rewarding. I reflected on the personal goals I accomplished and the one professional goal I didn’t. I then wrote new goals for tomorrow and made an action plan on how to accomplish them. As for the evening question, I found it similar to morning’s reflection on “Powerful Goodness,” in that it was very zen. I had done “good” and given out my compliments, but just the mere act of reflecting on that “good” made me evaluate how I wanted to live the next day. It was kind of powerful.

Having spent a day on Franklin’s time I can say that it felt both similar and radically different to my life now. It was similar because, like many people, he spent a bulk of his time working away at his job. It was way different because he scheduled time for goal setting and self-evaluation, an area I’m currently lacking in. It made me examine not just HOW I was spending my time, but also WHY, which is something, in my opinion, that we never think about enough.

 

UPDATE: Watch Tim’s interview on Fox News

Originally posted at TheKnow.com

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About Tim Goessling

Tim Goessling lives in Los Angeles where he likes gardening, a great book, choice vinyl, and heady conversation. He loves Game of Thrones, Grand Theft Auto, and the films of Michael Bay. His work has been published on TheKnow, Thought Catalog, and Tubefilter. Reach Tim @ThisLALife.

Comments

  1. Nick Jurczak says:

    Great article, great experiment, and great philosophy. As a college student I may have to modify this a little but I’d love to give this a shot. If you want more data for your experiment I would be more than happy to send you how things went for me.

  2. Love this kind of stuff. He was a very intelligent person according to history!

  3. Interesting experiment, however, at the end I found that it did not deliver on what was alluded to in the title. In particular, the “and it changed my life” part. To what extent did this change your life. In the writing, there were at least 2 or 3 instances in which you directly noted a similarity between Franklin’s schedule and the one that you already follow. Other than waking at 5am and doing some reflection that you felt was “kind of powerful”, I am not seeing in your writing how a profound impact (as would be expected for a “life changing” experience) was manifest. Overall, I like the concept and the experiment, but I found myself disappointed at the mismatch between what the title indicated and what was actually presented in the article.

    • Dale Thomas Vaughn says:

      I think asking “Why?” before and after every day is profoundly life-changing to any of us who’ve been trapped in the treadmill of regular real world schedules.

      • Perhaps. But I was not really disputing that point. Instead, I am saying that particular point was not a focus in this article at all. At most, the life-changing impact was left to implication or allusion. Even a single paragraph focusing on how and in what ways the asking of that “why” each day would have a tangible or otherwise practical impact would have addressed the issue.

        For instance, I ask myself “why” all of the time – not just at the beginning and ending of each day on my treadmill. However, asking why and taking action based on the answer (or the discovery of a lack of an answer) is a different thing entirely. Sometimes, asking “why” becomes part of that treadmill.

    • I have to say I agree. I’m looking for the “life changing”. One day of meditation/reflection/goal setting is a data point, not a trend. At the same time, I like the idea of integrating morning and evening reflection, furthering my personal studies, scheduling time for my accounts, putting my world in order and reminding myself “why” I do what I am doing. All those things get easily lost in the noise of just getting things off of my to-do list.

      I would be interested to hear whether it was more life changing if the experiment went on for a month or two. Then what is the difference?

      Either way, I’d give it a go.

  4. I’m getting ready to go into business on my own next year and SO looking forward to setting my own schedule, which I think will resemble Ben’s (minus the 5 a.m. wakeup). I’ve found that my most productive hours don’t really line up with a typical ‘day in the office’ schedule and can’t wait to have more autonomy over how I spend my time. This was inspiring – thanks!

    • Having started my own business 3 years ago, I found out that I no longer have any time away from work. Every moment is planning how to keep it going

  5. I loved this. Very inspirational. (Although I have to point out that Franklin’s afternoon work schedule was 2-6, not 2-5, and his evening schedule was 6-10, not 5-10.)

    • Wondered if I was the only one who went back to check that and wondered if I’d somehow misread Franklin’s schedule.

  6. Adam Lawrence says:

    Wasn’t “prosecute the present study” supposed to be learning something new (a language, a skill, some higher mathematics)?

  7. Most interesting how Franklin combined joyfull discipline with regular self – exams and personal conscious positive fortification throughout his day.
    Such self-checking eliminates regret and guilt and instead resets resolve instead of doubting one’s abilities.
    It’s a lesson in positive thinking and discipline and direct personal accountability. No one else is involved in this…No one to blame or thank.
    Something not too evident in today’s contributors to the mix.

  8. The six hours sleep would kill me.

  9. Just gotta say….. obviously Franklin had someone else in the garden, getting his food, preparing his food, washing his clothes and dishes, cleaning the house, going to market, slaughtering his meat, etc. Probably he had ‘lower class’ servants who were probably female. I think Franklin was brilliant and his observations and learnings are extremely valuable. I think it is also important just to notice that he was in a position of privilege. Great things can be accomplished by great people who have ‘invisible’ supports in the background.

  10. Interesting article and experiment. I have to say I get tripped up at giving complements being the authors way of “doing good”. Honestly that seems rather trite. But the premise of the article itself is interesting and it would be interesting to read how different people interpret taking on Franklin’s schedule.

  11. Interesting article. Beyond Franklin, it underlies what all the bosses and icky motivational speakers have always told us: make plans; write them down.

    Word of the day: faze, as in “I was not fazed by it.” (not “phased.”)

  12. So by diversion is that prostitutes and debauchery because he was big into both? Or is that less of a daily and more of a weekly thing. Google Benjamin Franklin and the Hellfire Club for examples

  13. ‘Address Powerful Goodness’, eh? That has a fun ring to it, but ultimately 222 years is about 2 years too long for Americans to continue deifying the founding fathers. Study them, study them CLOSELY, but accept that they disagreed with each other and did plenty of particularly disagreeable things.

  14. Hmm…no family time. No sex!!

  15. I think this is a great idea and I admire Old Ben very much, but this schedule looks relaxing to me. Where is the the time spent taking care of someone else? How do you also schedule cooking, cleaning, nursing a baby, working a full time job, taking kids to piano lessons and helping them with homework?

  16. when does his 40 year Opium addiction fit in the schedule? 330pm?

  17. I see that this was for 1 day. Have you considered extending the length of the study time for this type of day shift? Say doing it for a week, and recording your findings over that time, then extending it to a month?

    I’m considering giving this a go, since it reminds me a bit of Darren Hardy’s morning/day schedule. I would love to see how this pans out over an extended period of time, since it’s been shown, time and time again, that radical change doesn’t usually happen within the span of a single day. That the effects are compounded over time. Perhaps this would change your life to an even greater degree, if done over the course of 21 days+.

    We need a wider recorded reference to look at ;)

  18. Great article! Just keep rockin’!

    However, something bugs my mind. Why only 8hrs of work?! I mean, this schedule is obviously for people who work from home (i.e. who are self-employed) and I wonder why only 8hrs?! We all can work for 10-12hrs per day easily!

    Tomorrow I will try this schedule out and I will report back on the results.

  19. Miss Kae Oz says:

    Ah, Ben. The man who wrote Poor Richards Almananac and gave us “Early to bed, early to rise” of which he did neither. He wwas quite adept at dispensing advice he fely above to take himself. Whores and booze was his path to success. Especially in his dealings with the French.

  20. I was not phased by it. Set phasers for dumb! You mean fazed.

  21. I am keen to try this now as well.

    Well as much as I can, given I will be tending to small children from 6am.

    I also think I’d need to go to bed by 9pm in order to get up at 5pm.

    By the way, it’s “fazed”, not “phased”, in this context.

  22. Marilyn Wise says:

    Keep in mind, he wrote this “schedule” looking back later in life. Don’t forget the 15-minute “air bath” in the morning (sitting naked in front of the window). You might prefer his French schedule, described by John Adams: sleep late, eat delicious meals prepared by his French chef, receive some visitors in the afternoon, then socialize with rich French ladies in their salons until late at night. Adams was appalled.

  23. This would be better without the douchey side comments.

  24. Anonymous says:

    From a philosophical perspective, I can see the value of how he managed his day, but you can also see that he was a man of wealth, because his schedule did not include taking care of anyone (kids, etc.) or anything (home, etc). So for a man of wealth, his day had balance and discipline.

  25. Anonymous says:

    interesting article and comments. I thought the ‘powerful goddess’ may have referred to his wife who died in the 1770’s http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deborah_Read who sounds like a strong woman, and perhaps other women who shared his bed after that

  26. easily possible if you look after gaia and yourself and be lucid both in sleep and awake life

  27. A day doesn’t tell you much. Live a month on that 4-hour a night sleep schedule and you’ll be hallucinating.

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