Was Ben Franklin a Slacker?

June 3, 2014

Ben Franklin is one of the most renowned productivity masterminds of all time. You can’t make it through a history or science textbook without discovering something he invented, developed, thought about, or influenced. Simply put, he’s one of the most productive people ever.

So how did he do it? Franklin kept to a routine that made him productive than most of us are today. Somebody with multiple full-time jobs had to: statesman, author, scientist, politician, printer, and and many others. In short, he didn’t mess around. Here’s his daily schedule, but what’s interesting is that he didn’t follow it to like most of us really want to believe:

Franklin's daily schedule

Franklin’s schedule (on the right) shows one of intense focus and discipline. The first time I saw this schedule, I assumed it was the reason why he was so accomplished and successful. So I copied him and made my own calendar. Then I got even more inspired and read his biography (really good read).

Funny enough, while reading I came across something surprising:

My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble ; and I found that, tho’ it might be practicable where a man’s business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours,”

So Franklin kept a schedule, but didn’t follow through to the degree we want to believe he did. He was a sociable guy with meetings and social commitments that prevented him from really keeping to his schedule. His biography talks about him making time for friends, relationships, carousing, and many other leisurely activities.

So then, was Franklin a slacker?

Franklin had a schedule, but it turns out he didn’t follow it as much as we want to think he did. At the same time, he was still insanely accomplished and got a lot of things done. I’d argue that he did it through grit – keeping up with his schedule as much as possible but also being okay with small setbacks. Basically, by being gritty.

Yes, kindof, but he was also gritty

A lot of times we’ll face the same problem when trying to achieve a goal. Here’s what happens to me every time I set an overly ambitious goal:

Get Really Motivated: Spend an hour on /r/getmotivated and decide to take on a new goal. Like waking up at 5am every workday. Set an Ambitious Goal: “I’m going to wake up at 5:55 every morning for the rest of my life!!!111″ (Try to) Follow Though: Follow the plan for 2-3 days, then something happens. Something always happens. Maybe a late night at work. Maybe a date that goes well :). Then I start to lose interest in the goal as life intervenes. Fail: Five days in and I feel bad about not following through anymore. Seven days in and I’m waking up at 10am again and forgot about my dreams of being a morning person. Get Discouraged: And spend a lot of time on reddit. Maybe /r/getmotivated.

Be Gritty

Grit is the answer to this cycle. The most productive people set lofty goals, but they keep working towards those goals even when they can’t achieve 100%. Franklin, for example, remained productive even if he had to do things by other people’s schedules. We call this grit, which I define as the ability to persist through adversity and achieve a goal.

Here’s one of my favorite books on the subject – How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough. Setting goals is easy. Anybody can want to do something. But actually doing it and following through on a consistent basis until it’s done is a lot harder, and I think this is what separates the winners from the dreamers.

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