Still Inside Ben Franklin’s Head

It’s been almost a decade since I wrote the following post and, not surprisingly, it continues to be relevant. What I hear most from readers: how deceptive this simple approach appears.

What I realized over the years: the approach is simple; the work is challenging. And because of this, it’s time to revisit inside Ben Franklin’s head.

Photo courtesy jepsculpture_flickr

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 productivity habits. Here is a peek 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 tried to create in his daily life. These virtues are:

  1. Temperance. eat not to dullness. drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose not time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. 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.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

The approach

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, or have an app developed. 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, “What good have I done today?”

What I admire and would love to copy from his approach is this simplicity.

What would Ben do?

The initial reason for my interest in his daily practice was to help support my 365 days 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 specific intent. Therefore, I am breaking down Ben Franklin’s approach into three steps:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 reach out).

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!