Franklin, on getting things done

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2004
I find Benjamin Franklin's thoughts on productivity inspiring and convicting. Perhaps you will too...

Last night, I surfaced from a marathon string of client projects which I had been working on for the past several days and evenings. In need of a break, I pulled something from my electronic read/review folder to shift my focus.  I found an old essay that I had written about Benjamin Franklin's views on time and its use. Any of Franklin's maxims could become the foundation for an essay on how we use our time. Here are a small collection of his thoughts...

Franklin, on personal productivity and the effective use of time:

Benjamin Franklin, who lived from 1706-1790, is often remembered for his many inventions and experiments, political writings, and witty common sense.  In 1732, Franklin began to publish some of his stories, wit, and wisdom under the pen-name of Richard Saunders in a publication by the name of Poor Richard's Almanac.  Poor Richard grew to become one of the most influential publications in American history and Franklin's numerous sayings and words of advice have remained an active part of American thought ever since.  

Inasmuch as the author is up late on the night before his American Literature class completing the required reading assignment of Poor Richard Improved, dated 1758, he is convicted by Franklin's admonition: He that riseth late, must trot all Day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night.  Thus condemned, the author will highlight some of Franklin's words of advice concerning the subject of personal productivity and the effective use of time from Franklin's publication.

Franklin begins by explaining that while government taxes may be burdensome and costly we are taxed twice as much by our idleness.  Thus, we are to be constantly seeking to make productive use of our time at all times since time is the stuff that life is made of and lost time is never found again. Franklin further reminds us of the fleeting nature of time since thou art not sure of a Minute, throw not away an Hour. And, as the author is reminded this evening, time enough proves little enough. Franklin encourages us to plan ahead and points out that there is value in not putting off things that need to be done: one today is worth two tomorrows. We are further encouraged to take action immediately upon becoming aware of the steps to move ahead: - have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today. Finally, Franklin tells us that just as employees are mindful to not be caught by their employers wasting time, we are our own masters; he thus admonishes us that we are to be ashamed to catch ourselves idle.

Franklin provides many examples of the benefits when our time is used efficiently and productively. These include financial and edible benefits: plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep, leisurely benefits: employ thy time well if thou meanest to gain leisure, and good fortune: Diligence is the Mother of Good luck. At the same time, Franklin points out that the consequences of not using our time productively can be costly: The sleeping Fox catches no Poultry and Sloth, like Rust, consumes faster than Labour wears, while the used Key is always bright. The benefits of the effective use of time can also be seen with the relative ease with which things can be accomplished compared to the effort required when time is not used efficiently: Sloth makes all Things difficult, but Industry all easy.    

Finally, Franklin demonstrates that small things done consistently can have great effect in his example: constant dropping wears away stones.

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin and the wit with which he dispatches it, are amazingly to the point. In fact, in the example of this brief essay, more words have been invested in the illustration of Franklin's advice than Franklin's advice itself - which violates Franklin's maxim on the economy of words: a Word to the Wise is enough.

Do any of these words of wisdom apply to you?

If so, what actions can you take now to move you towards your desired outcome?

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