Tim Goessling on The Good Men Project recently posted about his experiences trying to live and work on the schedule Benjamin Franklin laid out in his 1791 autobiography. I’ve always admired Ben Franklin, the writer, publisher, inventor, philosopher, revolutionary, and, especially, the humorist. Therefore, I feel I could learn something from living and working as he did.
So, with some slight modifications, here is my account of living one day according to a similar schedule. The day I did this was a Sunday, when I do not have to go in to work at my paying job (where I have no control over my schedule).
One of the things I really like about this schedule is that he gives plenty of time for eating and reflection: two hours in the morning, not just to rise, wash and breakfast, but also to ponder “Powerful Goodness” and ask oneself, “What good shall I do this day?”
While I did not get up quite at 5 a.m. (more like 8 a.m.), I did follow his timetable. I had a nice, leisurely cup of coffee, chatted with my partner, and composed a checklist of stuff to do today. I free-wrote for 15 mins. on “Powerful Goodness,” and as for the “good I shall do this day,” the best I could come up with was to try to educate and enlighten a few people. I had time, glorious time, to fix myself something to eat for breakfast. It is indeed the most important meal of the day, and I know that I often skip it because I’m so rushed in the morning.
Next, I shaved the five-hour work block down to four, thinking maybe Franklin was factoring in commute times. Beginning at 10 a.m., I did errands and wrote a little, and finished 45 minutes early. So I made an executive decision to start lunch 30 minutes early and make up the time at the end of my day.
Franklin’s schedule allows two whole hours for lunch, to dine and “read or overlook accounts.” As Goessling writes, he considers his social network “accounts” and so updated them during his lunch hours. I think this is a capital idea; for freelancers, especially, managing one’s social networks is a vital part of the job. And a long lunch break is a perfect time to get on the smartphone or tablet and respond to messages and/or post updates.
I had a simple lunch – grilled cheese and tomato soup – but it felt absolutely decadent to have so much time to cook and dine. Usually, I’m so rushed during meals that I end up getting fast food way too often. It’s no secret that fast food = obesity, whereas slow food = health and happiness.
However, as part of attending to my accounts, I ended up on the phone with the cable company for a lot longer than I anticipated, so that my lunch break lasted 30 mins. longer than allowed for. Therefore, I am going to count dealing with the cable company as “work.” I’ve now noticed that he didn’t schedule any time for cleaning or household tasks; oh, yeah, he was a rich white guy. In his world, that’s what wives or servant girls were for. No matter; household tasks are work, and I’m going to count them as such.
After lunch, according to Franklin’s plan, it’s back to work for another five hours. I again shrank this to four, then added the extra thirty minutes from my early lunch, which meant writing from 4 – 8:30 p.m.
I forced my way through a bad case of writer’s block until, at 7:15, I had to take another break. I was starving. I reheated some leftovers, slurped them down, and got back to it. While I ended up about 400 words shy of my goal of 2,000 words, I actually had a pretty productive afternoon and evening.
The four hours at the end of the day are scheduled for “put[ting] things in their places; supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day.” This is the time, he suggests, to ask oneself, “What good have I done today?” Another excellent idea, much better than just vegging out in front of the TV.
Alas, I did begin this day far too late. I free-wrote on what good I did today (not much, really) until 10 p.m., then watched Venture Bros. on DVR, and crawled into bed at 11.
The takeaway? First, I really, really like what this schedule represents: a good, healthy balance between productive work and valuable downtime (i.e., sleeping and eating). Without this clear balance, one of two things usually happens: either you let the work creep into all your time, so you’re never really “off the clock,” or else you find everything in the world to do besides work (like laundry, paying bills, doing dishes) and never get anything done.
On the other hand, his schedule, as is, just doesn’t work for me. Ben Franklin wasn’t kidding about being “early to rise”;. he got up at 5 a.m. I cannot – will not – get up at 5 a.m. unless something very close to me is on fire (and maybe not even then). I’m old enough to know who I am, and my chronotype is a later one than early-bird Ben (Brain Pickings has an excellent article on the stress of being a late riser here). Unstuck, an excellent app and blog, has a great post about how the right routine can make you happier and more productive. The right routine being, of course, one uniquely matched to your own internal rythyms. It even offers a printable scheduling worksheet for you to find your best times for different tasks.
So, in the tradition of creative geniuses, I will keep what works (long, leisurely meal times) and leave off what doesn’t (everything else). And I think I might print that worksheet…