Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Routine
Though his schedule had structure and routine, it was also very forgiving to all the nuances and variables that each day’s tasks and priorities bring.
He had only six blocks of time scheduled each day:
- 5 to 8 am: “Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast.”
- 8 am to 12 pm: “Work.”
- 12 to 2 pm: “Read or overlook my accounts, and dine.”
- 2 to 6 pm: “Work.”
- 6 to 10 pm: “Put things in their places, supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day.”
- 10 pm to 5 is: “Sleep.”
So simple, yet still structured and helpful. I look at my routine to make sure it’s serving me well from time to time. Having a daily routine helps ensure that the minutes don’t get away from you, and it enables you to avoid squandering your time. Many people kick against the idea of structure or routine or a schedule. I indeed used to. But in truth, a routine like Ben Franklin’s is incredibly empowering — it’s liberating. I’ve said this before, and I’ll repeat it:
There’s no good reason a creative person should live without routine, discipline, or accountability.
This big myth is that creativity cannot be harnessed, and that’s silliness.
Sure, inspiration often will come when we least expect it, and so by all means, let us allow exceptions to our schedules. But sitting around being idle while waiting for inspiration is an excellent way to get nothing done. And worse, it is also a way to stagnate the creative juices.
You will do your best work when you’ve found a way to live within constraints. Moreover, you’ll also find that it removes much of the stress between your work life and personal life.
The secret to all of this is found in your daily routines and habits.
Here are the ten most essential productivity lessons from Franklin’s daily schedule:
1. Keep it simple
The first thing to note about Franklin’s daily schedule is its simplicity.
There are only six-time blocks scheduled for each day, and one of these blocks includes sleep—an obvious necessity.
There’s no overwhelming to-do list of things to get done. It’s simple, ruthlessly focused on the essential, and highly effective.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of simplicity, even though it’s the hidden driving force behind peak productivity.
2. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
One of Franklin’s most popular mantras was “early to bed and early to rise a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and according to this schedule, he lived up to it.
Each day, Franklin woke up early at 5 am and went to bed early at 10 pm, for a total of 7 hours of sleep each night.
However, it’s important to note that what matters most isn’t the time you go to bed or wake up and it’s the consistency of your sleep schedule.
By going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, you’ll train your brain to fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.
3. Spend quiet time alone
Shortly after waking up, Franklin would take a shower and then “address Powerful Goodness.” In other words, he’d spend some time in prayer or meditation.
This daily habit of solitude gave Franklin the needed clarity and focus on planning the day and following through on his plans.
4. Set your intention and plan for the day
Each morning, before going to work, Franklin would set his intention for the day with an important question: What good shall I do this day?
Then he’d pick a virtue to focus on and begin to “contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day,” i.e., to plan his day.
Setting an intention and creating a plan of action each morning ensures that you stay focused on your most important task and avoid getting easily distracted by the minutia and other people during the day. If you intend to eat clean that day, stay focused on that goal.
5. Dedicate time to learning
You don’t have to work in education to be a life-long learner. In Franklin’s daily schedule, he sets aside some time to “prosecute the present study,” which means he’d spend time on an independent personal project separate from work.
Most likely, this would’ve been time spent reading either books or papers.
Alternatively, you could spend this time learning a language, playing an instrument or on your hobbies.
6. Create time blocks for deep and shallow work
Franklin created time blocks to manage his time effectively and protect his day from unexpected interruptions to plan his day.
Specifically, Franklin allocated two four-hour time blocks—from 8 am till 12 pm and from 2 pm till 6 pm—for deep work and uninterrupted focus on his most important tasks.
Likewise, Franklin allocated a two-hour time block—from 12 am till 2 pm—for lunch and shallow work, i.e., reviewing his finances.
By creating time blocks in this manner, Franklin finished his most important tasks for the day when he had the most energy to do so. Using the 10-minute timer technique can help you with time blocking and efficiently completing all your work.
7. Put things back in order after work
After a long tiring day at work, it’s easy to walk away from our workspace and leave things in a disorderly manner, only to return the following day to clean it up before getting back to work.
Even though this saves time upfront, it wastes valuable time, willpower and energy, that could’ve been spent working on important tasks straight away.
Franklin made sure to clean up his workspace and put things back in order before leaving the office each day to avoid this problem.
This ensured that Franklin had enough willpower each morning to tackle the tedious tasks in the long day ahead.
8. Schedule downtime
After work each day, Franklin would clean up his workspace, eat dinner, and spend the rest of the evening relaxing: listening to music and catching up with his friends.
Downtime isn’t a waste of time, and it’s a powerful productivity tool for re-energizing the brain and body in preparation for the challenges of the next day.
9. Reflect on your day in the evenings
Before going to bed, Franklin would reflect on his day and ask himself an important question: What good have I done today?
Franklin would look to change and improve his daily schedule after noting down what went well and what didn’t go so well during the day.
Likewise, an evening audit of your daily productivity will help you uncover time-wasting activities that drain your energy and improve your daily schedule for better productivity.
10. Don’t aim for perfection
Franklin himself struggled to stick to his daily schedule:
“He was not naturally inclined to keep his papers and other possessions organized, and he found the effort so irritating that he almost quit in frustration. Moreover, the demands of his printing business meant that he couldn’t always follow the strict daily timetable that he set for himself.”
What matters most isn’t perfectionism, and it’s an improvement. As Franklin emphasized:
“I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.”
Celebrate your small wins and avoid beating yourself up when you fall short of your plans because it’s the effort that counts.
Here’s the list of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues:
1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and 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 do good to others or yourself: i.e., Waste nothing.
6. Industry: Lose no 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. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. 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.
12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles or accidents common or unavoidable.
13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.