Your daily routine should be exactly like that of Benjamin Franklin
Courtesy of the Quit! podcast, I came across a fun story about the daily schedule of the great Benjamin Franklin (pictured above). It sounded like a fun insight into the secrets of a phenomenal man, but the problem is that most of it was written in such Old English that it probably doesn't strike a chord with many of us.
So I thought I would take up the challenge to "translate" this into a modern-day version that's a bit more relatable and applicable to life in 2017 (and beyond). Time to shake up your daily routine by following in the footsteps of a truly great man!
Note: if you want to see the better, more popular, and more polished version of my attempt to translate Benjamin Franklin's routine into modern-day terms, check out Tim Goessling's experiment where he lived a day like Franklin and found that it "changed his life."
The Morning Question: What good shall I do today?
First thing's first: let's start with the morning.
This is quite the mouthful and can seem a bit overwhelming at first, so let's break this down step-by-step. First of all, I think Franklin's message behind Powerful Goodness hits at something that has become very popular nowadays: mindfulness. This is defined formally as the "basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us." If you're (strictly) religious, you'll probably perceive this as dedicated prayer but regardless of what you want to call it, it's incredibly underrated stuff.
We're all just so busy these days, aren't we? if we're not at work, we're checking our email. If we're not checking our email, we're checking our social media accounts. If we're not doing that, we're hustling from one obligation to the next, barely sparing a second to let our minds (let alone our bodies) breathe. Franklin addresses this nicely by recommending that we start the day out with stillness; essentially stopping the progression of your life before it has even started. More importantly, it means taking control of your day before it has taken control of you.
This reminds me of a beautiful concept in Spanish/South-American football called "La Pausa." It's an almost perfectly metaphor for the value of slowing down the impossibly hectic pace of our lives in order to add greater value over the long-run, even though it seems paradoxical on the surface. The following two definitions of "La Pausa" capture it perfectly. First, from Sam Fayazz...
... and from Graham Hunter.
So what's the first order of the day? Mindfulness. How do you do it? It's super easy, especially because there are so many apps for it these days, but this link will walk you through it step-by-step if you need some help getting started.
Contrive and Prosecute
The next step was a bit harder to decode, but a quick dictionary search for the word "contrive" helped clarify this. Basically, it boils down to the following: set and write down goals for the day, make a plan for how to achieve them, and get in the mindset of getting it done. Look, this doesn't have to be a dissertation of how you strategically plan to conquer the world in 24 hours. It's simply one or two goals, a few general steps on how you want to achieve them, and then get into the right headspace to achieve them these goals. It also doesn't have to be solely anchored on work: think about goals in relationships with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues, health goals, personal development goals, and so on. Remember to ground this step in the overarching, guiding question of "what good shall I do today?"
Sidenote: I think the breakfast part speaks for itself, even though some people still skip this meal. Please don't skip breakfast people, you don't know the harm you're doing to your body...
Work, Break, Lunch
Although it's again important to stress the importance of having at least three meals per day, I don't want to beat that one to death. So let's examine the "overlook my accounts" part. First of all, no, this doesn't mean checking your bank statements during lunch break. I think this again comes back to our concept of "La Pausa." In other words, take a few minutes during the day to just check up on yourself (pause) before you let the hectic nature of life overwhelm your mind. How am I doing? How am I feeling? Am I doing well with regards to my goals (and doing good today)?
The reading part is also a nice suggestion for taking a different type of break. I think I once heard that reading fiction during a break is apparently the best way to give your brain genuine rest because this disconnects it from "our world" and allows it to enter a (usually) more pleasant one. I'm not sure about the science on this one, but heck, why not give it a shot?
Putting things in their places
This one was open for interpretation, so I looked at it in the following ways: preparing, for example, your lunch for the next day so you don't have to rush in the morning (which would not be a very mindful way to start the day), putting things in your office in order so that you can start the next day on the right foot, and/or actually cleaning up your apartment (which is always useful). The first point is so easily overlooked because we rarely take the extra 5 minutes during the day to think a few steps ahead. Basically, ask yourself the question of "what do I do in the morning that I could do now in the evening?" Examples include putting the coffee and filter ready in your coffee machine, putting the right water dosage in the coffee machine, making your lunch ready for the next day, selecting and readying your outfit for the next day (particularly relevant for the ladies), and so on.
These are such little things that can make a dramatic difference to your day because if you don't do these things, your morning starts off like death by a million papercuts. "Damn I forgot to make my lunch. Oh, I still need to figure out what to wear. I forgot to put my coffee ready!" The day will start with a total lack of order and control, which will consequently set a very (negative) tone for the rest of your day.
Regarding the point of putting things in your office in order, this is also an opportunity for a small nudge in the right direction. Before you leave work, grab some notepaper, write down the first specific assignment you need to start with the next day, and leave it on your desk. This way you don't waste the first 20 or 30 minutes at work the next day figuring out where you left off the day before. A nice way to hit the ground running.
Examination of the Day
And so we reach the end of the day.
Along with the mindfulness practice in the morning, this is the most important yet, without a doubt, the easiest part of the day. All you need to do is spend 5-minutes on journal entry at the end of each day, answering roughly the following questions: What did I do today? What went well? What didn't go well? What good have I done today? Again, this is a 5-minute journal entry, so no need to write an essay.
This is important for so many reasons. It helps you understand and recognize what the hell you're actually doing in your life. It helps memory retention and helps you spot patterns in things that are going well that you need to keep doing or things that are going poorly that you need to change. However, above all, it forces you to finally come face-to-face with the one question that matters above all else:
What good am I doing today, and every other day?
To put it all together then, your brand-new Benjamin Franklin daily routine should look something like this:
- Five minutes of mindfulness at the start of the day.
- Set a few goals for the day, how you plan to achieve them, and get into the mindset to achieve them. Write them in a journal (or on your phone with an app?) if you want/can. Remember: what good will I do today (for mankind)?
- Breakfast, followed by work.
- Lunch break. Read some fiction (if you can) and take a few minutes to check up on yourself and how you're doing, both mentally and work-wise. Remember the goals you set at the start of the day!
- Before you go home from work, leave a note on your desk that specifies the first piece of action you need to do tomorrow.
- Cook, dinner, chill, and all that jazz. Clean up the apartment if necessary. Relax.
- Put things ready for the next morning. Outfit, coffee filter, lunch, etc. Do this in the evening so you don't need to rush in the morning.
- Five minute journal to reflect on the day. What did I do today? What went well? What didn't go well? What good have I done today? Ideally, use the same journal as for the start of the day. Again, you can use an app on your phone if you prefer.
Although I absolutely don't want to downplay what was truly a brilliant man, Benjamin Franklin's routine is really not dramatically revolutionary stuff. It all simply boils down to mindfulness. What am I doing? How am I doing? Am I feeling alright? Am I doing good in the world? Did I do good in the world?
It's so simple but really, how many of us think about this? Do we ever reflect on what we're doing, have/take control of our day, or think about how the day went? Do we set goals for the day, however small they may be? We complain about life passing us by and allow social media feeds to dictate the tempo of our days, yet don't realize the power we have and must claim in controlling our days.
Take control, my friends. The power is in your hands.
See you, Space Cowboy.