Create A Simple Schedule Like Benjamin Franklin
Time management and simple scheduling can help you accomplish the things that matter most in life. I’ve made schedules for every stage in my life, and one mistake I consistently made in the early years was to try to shoehorn in too many details. It took me a long time to realize that it works better to schedule fewer activities, and allow generous time estimates for each. Doing so provides a margin for the unexpected (and isn’t there always something unexpected?), and can reduce stress in the day.
Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.
One thing that helped me learn more about scheduling is reading old autobiographies that include the writer’s personal schedule. Somehow, it seems that people in earlier times had a better grip on reality (and fewer distractions) when it came to scheduling their days. One of the simplest and most inspiring time management schemes is Benjamin Franklin’s. Here in his own words is how he desired to spend his days:
The Precept of Order requiring that every Part of my Business should have its allotted Time, one Page in my little Book contain’d the following Scheme of Employment for the Twenty-four Hours of a natural Day, The Morning Question, What Good shall I do this Day? 5 6 7 Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness; Contrive Day’s Business and take the Resolution of the Day; prosecute the present Study: and breakfast? 8 9 Work. 10 11 12 1 Read, or overlook my Accounts, and dine. 2 3 Work. 4 5 6 7 Put Things in their Places, Supper, Music, or Diversion, or Conversation, 8 Examination of the Day. Evening Question, What Good have I done to day? 9 10 11 12 1 Sleep. 2 3 4 (from Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin, which Excellence in Literature students will read in the first module of American Literature — English 3).
The little book that Franklin mentions seems to be a small notebook where he recored quotes he wanted to remember; things he was working on; and so forth. It sounds like a cross between a traditional commonplace book and a modern bullet journal — a place to record a daily schedule, to-do lists, and personal notes.
Here is an easier-to-read version of his schedule, with my annotations.
Ben Franklin’s Schedule, Annotated
Morning Question: What Good shall I do this Day?
- Wash (Get ready for the day)
- Address Powerful Goodness (Prayer)
- Contrive Day’s Business (Decide on the main tasks for the day.)
- Take the Resolution of the Day (What virtue will be the focus of my day?)
- Prosecute the Present Study (Continue with current topic of study.)
- Work (Do tasks related to your current role in life, whether homeschooling, employment, homemaking, etc.)
- Read (Material that is relevant for your life.)
- Overlook my Accounts (Check bank statements and bills.)
- Dine (Lunch)
- Work* (Continue tasks related to your current role in life, whether homeschooling, employment, homemaking, etc.)
- Put things in their Places (Tidy home and/or office.)
- Music or Diversion or Conversation
- Examination of the Day (Reflect on the day; similar to the practice of the Daily Examen.)
- Evening Question: What Good have I done to day?
9 p.m. – 4 a.m.
Franklin’s life had a very different rhythm from ours, and he was planning for himself only, rather than for a family. The thing is, his schedule contains all the essentials for a good life, and things are done simply and routinely. If a visitor or event unexpectedly takes up a day, the interruption doesn’t mean that the whole week’s schedule is out of whack, because each day in the week has time for every activity. If something is skipped on one day, it can be done the next day so that nothing falls too far behind. With a simple schedule like this, getting things done means doing the next right thing in each category.
*Franklin lists only two hours a day for work, but his autobiography was written when he was older, and his reading time was also part of his work life as writer, statesman, and public figure. I’m sure that a younger Ben Franklin devoted more time to earning a living.
My biggest takeaways from Franklin’s schedule?
- Have a focus for each and every day.
- Don’t overfill the day.
- Plan in things that really matter such as meals with the family, learning, or personal examination.
You can read a bit about my own methods of time management in the Planning section of this site. My own methods tend to be simple because simple can keep things less complicated if your life has a lot of moving parts — family, homeschooling, micro-business, homesteading, caregiving, or anything else that makes life complicated.
Benjamin Franklin lived long ago, but his schedule reflects wise priorities. As you seek to become the person you want your children to remember, Franklin’s schedule can help to remind you that doing less is sometimes the most important choice you can make. However you choose to manage your time, remember to always make time for the people and things that matter most.
P. S. A modern time management resource I enjoy is Mystie Winkler’s blog, Simply Convivial. She offers excellent insights on home and time management, and I’m certain that her blog is where I first heard the phrase “learning to love what must be done” — some of the most practical advice I’ve ever read. It may seem odd to love a simple task such as sweeping the kitchen floor, but it’s quite easy to appreciate the simplicity and quietness of the job and enjoy its results. It’s like a gratitude practice — choosing to be thankful for things rather than focusing on complaining. It seems like a small thing, but it can change your life.
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