How Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule can make you more productive

How do great people get so much done? If you're Ben Franklin, you lay out a detailed schedule.

  • Ben Franklin's success was driven not just by his genius and work ethic, but also by his schedule.
  • Planning your day like Franklin can help you achieve more.
  • Franklin also valued recreation and set up time for that.

Ben Franklin was an industrious man. In his 84 years, he found time to be a scientist, publisher, author, revolutionary, freemason, postmaster, governor, ambassador, political theorist, inventor, musician, and the leading citizen of Philadelphia.

While much of this can be attributed to his brilliance, talent without application is of little value. Nobody knew this better than Franklin, who inspired the book on the Protestant work ethic. To help organize his busy life and better live up to the virtue of order, he created a framework to structure his daily schedule around. It is included in his autobiography.

The schedule

Franklin's schedule as shown in his autobiography. While the details would change from day to day, he tried to make his daily routine follow this outline (Public Domain).

The first thing you might notice is that he woke up each day at 5. It seems like he really believed that “early to bed and early to rise" business. He then spent three hours getting ready for the day.

One part of this was to ask himself, “What good shall I do this day?" Not only did this refer to what work he needed to do and what he hoped to accomplish, but also to how he would live up to his virtue of the week.

He then turned to his morning rituals, which he listed as rise, wash, and address Powerfull Goodness! Contrive day's business, and take the resolution of the day: prosecute the present study, and breakfast."

What does all this mean? It's too old-timey to understand.

“Powerfull Goodness!" was his term for God, so that bit means prayer. “Contrive day's business, and take the resolution of the day" means that he then drew up his daily schedule and determined how to carry out that good he dedicated himself to earlier that morning.

“Prosecute the present study" refers to his habit of dedicating time to studying something often unrelated to the rest of the work he had to do that day, like learning a new language.

The next part of his day was simply labeled “work." Lasting from 8 to 5, this section was split into three parts. The first section was a four-hour block. He then gave himself two hours for lunch, during which he would also “read, or overlook [his] accounts." Another four-hour work block followed this.

After quitting at five, the last five hours of his day were earmarked for time to put things in their places. Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation. Examination of the day." This is where he would have placed his myriad social engagements and various hobbies. This also means that many of his achievements fell under the category of “diversion" for him.

He was also sure to ask himself “what good have I done to-day?" in reflection. He would make a note in his journal recording if he had succeeded or failed at living up to his virtue that day.

He then went to bed at 10 and tried to get seven hours of sleep.

Did he always follow this?

Like anybody else, Franklin often had good reasons for deviating from his schedule. In his autobiography, he lamented that his work as a newspaper publisher often required him to see other people when it best suited them, fouling up his system. He explained that:

“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."

Of course, he felt that he was better for the attempt. He explains later on the same page:

"In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it."

Would keeping a schedule help me?

Studies show that people who are more disciplined are happier and get more done. Keeping a schedule is an excellent way to keep yourself on task. While making a schedule and sticking to it might not turn you into Ben Franklin, he would agree that the attempt at improvement is what really matters.

What can I learn from this?

The divisions in his work blocks show that he differentiated between work that required his utmost attention and work that could be done over lunch and saw fit to schedule accordingly. He dedicated time to work each day no matter what the work would be. This diligence undoubtedly helped him get the insane amount of things he accomplished done.

His labeling of the evening as a time for diversions or conversation shows that he understood the value of recreation. He also began each day with an intention and ended it by asking if he had done everything he needed to do.

Ben Franklin was a brilliant man, but brilliance without direction won't get very far. While his attempts to structure his days were often foiled, he thought that the effort made him a better person. His schedule is best suited to life two hundred years ago, but the ideas behind it are timeless and can help everybody better organize their lives.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.