I was sorting my books this weekend as part of my commitment to daily creativity when I ran across a hardcopy of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I resisted reading it because I was trying to stay focused on my mission to create a zen-like office and replace as many hardcopy books with ebook versions.
But I had recently been reminded of one of Ben’s habits during a conversation I was having with a great coach and business colleague and I wanted to find the passage explaining the habit. I remembered the habit as one of a review of the events of the day, but what I realized was it was a lot more than just that. As it turns out, Benjamin Franklin has influenced much of our personal productivity habits. Here is a look at self improvement according to Benjamin Franklin.
The 13 virtues
First Ben identified the habits which he wanted to develop. Through his research and studies he identified thirteen virtues which he wanted to develop in his daily life. These virtues are:
- Temperance. eat not to dullness. drink not to elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
- Order. Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
- Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. waste nothing.
- Industry. Lose not time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
- Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice. Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Moderation. Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
- Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Though I may not agree with all of his virtues. I admire his approach. His second step was to take each of the virtues in order. Starting with number 1 he focused on only that virtue for one week. Then he would add the second virtue and focus on the first and second in week number 2. He would continue this approach for 13 weeks. And after the 13 weeks, he would start again at number one. Because there are 13 weeks in each quarter, he would repeat this examination four times a year.
The daily habit
Now Benjamin Franklin was a very organized man. If he were alive today he would probably have started a spreadsheet to track his progress. As such, he used a notebook and created a page for each virtue and a column for each day of the week. He would make a mark in the column each time he broke the habit that was being examined during that week.
Finally I found the bit I was searching for: his habit of daily self examination. In the morning he would ask himself “What good shall I do this day?” and in the evening he would ask himself “What good have I done today?” What I admire and would love to copy from his approach is the simplicity.
What would Ben do?
The initial reason for my interest in his daily practice was to help support the 365 day take action challenge. (It’s since been used in many other goals.) In my review of my first month of creativity, I discovered how difficult it is to focus on just one thing. I also discovered that I started to identify my creative actions after they were done instead of starting the day with a specific intent. Therefore, I am breaking down Ben Franklin’s approach into three easy steps (I love the three step model!):
- Focus on one thing at a time. The annual goal of creativity needs to be broken down into smaller projects. For example my January project was to create a zen-like office space.
- Set intention in the morning. Instead of waiting until the evening and selecting the most creative moment from the chaos of the day, establish the one goal of the day that supports your guidepost. Mine is creativity so each morning I identify what creative action I will take.
- Assess the activities of the day in the evening. For me this is about making course corrections along the way, not after several days or even weeks of being off course.
Renew your commitment!
Take this opportunity to make a course correction. What is your guidepost for the year? Is it the right one for right now? Is it right for you? How have you been supporting your commitment? Are you taking daily steps of action to support your guidepost? How can you apply the habits of Ben Franklin to help you stay on course? Do you need the help of a guide or coach? (yep, I can help! – feel free to ask a question in the comments, or ask the coach in private).
p.s. I decided to keep the hardcopy version of the book The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I also have the ebook so I have it with me at all times!
Thanks for this, Linda, and for simplifying it into three easy steps.
I agree that it is difficult to focus on one thing at a time. For example, I find that get-fit challenges give way to other things in January and February. I think it boils down to priorities. For example, although good health is an overall priority for the year or decade, I do tend to start the day with other activities in the coldest, darkest months. The trouble is that things which are not made a priority tend to get swept away by whatever comes along during the day. My real priority in the winter would be hibernation and, failing that, survival in good spirits.
For me, January was organisation month, February is for using time well and March will be when I can realistically manage to get out and exercise. Even indoor excercise projects seem more daunting than they really are.
Each morning I set out with the intention of doing several good things but experience has shown me not to try too hard with keeping fit in winter. Maybe things will improve as time goes by …
You are not alone in the get-fit challenge! I think we all want it but change is so very difficult! That’s why focusing on one thing at a time is helpful. Not only that, but making changes in small increments is also helpful. So for me it’s difficult to get up and jog for 30 minutes in the winter (I’m with you on the hibernation!) so instead I decided to try and incorporate small activities throughout the day. Do 50 squats while brushing your teeth; 50 crunches while waiting for the coffee to brew; you get the idea. It’s being active but in little spurts. Then when spring comes you’ll be ready to hit the road (so to speak).
I love your monthly goals! That is exactly what I would recommend to break down the larger annual goal into smaller bits.
Try to set your intention in the morning to do only one thing. Don’t try and change over night….it’s too difficult and probably wouldn’t last!
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experience. It really helps us all!
Well I think I need to read and follow some of his virtues! I like the “what good shall I do today and what good did I do today!
I am trying to focus on less is more and getting organized. Stuff is making me crazy. I only have 2 kids well 3 if we count my husband. Sometimes it feels like I have 7 with all the mess and clutter!
I don’t know how you do it! I have trouble with 2 adults in the house. I often discover that I am responsible for a good deal of the ‘stuff.’ I like to work on one area at a time. I’ve selected my home office as the first room since I have total control over that. Is there an area that is only for you and your husband? Maybe that room could be your first project. I hope that by starting in one room I can set an example of how it could be in the rest of the house.
For you, however, the kids make it impossible to have a totally organized house. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? Where would you get all of your great writing muse if not for the reality of life?
Love your blog, Mega. Thanks for visiting!
Thanks for sharing this Linda.
Years ago I read the book 7 habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. His teaching changed the way I viewed things and lived. I think he and Ben are really on to something.
I write down my intentions for the week on Sunday nights.
Next, I write down the actions needed to fulfill my intentions each evening before I go to bed…this usually allows me to actually sleep, instead of laying there awake half the night thinking about what I need to do next.
I love that I have a plan in front of me when I get up in the morning…I don’t have to think, just take action.
So all week long, I’m creating action steps that fulfill my intention for the week. Then on Sunday night I review what worked and what didn’t.
Then I start the cycle all over again.
You have great structure! You make a great point by showing your interpretation of the 7 habits approach. It’s not about doing exactly the steps provided by Ben Franklin or Steven Covey, but rather to make self examination a habit. Well done!
I was introduced to the 7 Habits years and years ago in a workshop that combined the 7 Habits with the Franklin Planner – influenced by none other than…..Ben Franklin! Though I don’t use the planner, the strategies are really very good.
Thanks for reminding me / us of the 7 Habits – another great resource!
Love the idea of a list of 13 virtues, which you focus on for 4 weeks out of the year (and not consecutive weeks). Though I am not sure that I would pick Ben’s 13, the idea of picking some specific goal or virtue and dedicating a week just to that is something I have been toying with myself.
I like your 3 steps about being more conscious of your actions. I have often found myself so busy that I am done with something and then try to tie it in to one of my goals or plans to justify the time spent on it a bit.
I’m curious about your Zen Desk effort. I have recently begun trying to go paperless in my office, and increase ebook purchases over physical book purchases. Wondering what you have found that makes it easier, etc. I just havent been able to get completely into the paperless system yet (though I’m working on it!)
I’m right there with you trying to fit actions into goals as an afterthought. It’s an ongoing process!
And so is the zen office/desk goal! Like you, I struggle with going paperless. I recognized that it’s not going to happen overnight, especially since the rest of the world is not cooperating (some organizations still provide paper contracts, statements etc; and not all books are in ebook format).
This sounds like a great topic for my next post! I’ll share what I have learned so far….Thanks!
Loved this piece! Ben’s one of my favorite guys of all time. Thank you so much for this post and reminding me to renew my commitment to my work. January’s been a struggle.