I lived a day according to Benjamin Franklin’s schedule and it changed my life

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin was the original to-do-list app.

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?

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.

5am to 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 to give out 3 compliments to satisfy the “good today” portion of the schedule. I never set goals for individual workdays so this aspect was welcome.

Breakfast was the pan-dulces my girlfriend and I recently got in East L.A. (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 to 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 to 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 to 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 fazed 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 to 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.

This post originally appeared at The Know and was reposted with permission.

Photo via edillallo/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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