How’d we get to be so productive? Here’s a look at the key events that helped increase human efficiency.
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This post originally appeared at Inc.
Benjamin Franklin's posthumous autobiography described the founding father's system for the pursuit of 'Order.'
In a small book of his own making, Franklin assiduously tracked each day's activities. From 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., for instance, he would: 'rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day's business, and take the resolute of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.'
Evening would include 'supper, music or diversion or conversation' followed by 'examination of the day.' But Franklin fretted that unpredictable claims on his time rendered his schedule ineffective.
John Letts founded a stationary business in 1796 in the arcades of London's Royal Exchange, the city's centre of commerce from 1565 to 1939, but it was almost two more decades before the company made steps to become a leader in time management products.
With merchants and traders who frequently bought from the shop clamoring for a business-oriented product, Letts introduced the world's first commercial diary. Originally used to keep track of stock movements, the commercial diary helped merchants increase efficiency day-to-day. Its wild popularity established commercial diaries as a staple in work and life by the 1820s.
Today, Lett's manufactures more than 22 million diaries, calendars, and other products to increase productivity.
Catherine Beecher, advocate for women's education (and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe's sister), dedicated her life to the idea that women could be as effective and competent as men.
Sharing her sister's belief in the power of the written word, she published A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School in an attempt to codify domestic duties and emphasise the importance of female labour.
The book, which soon became a bestseller of the era, also served as a guide for time management. Beecher's words taught habits to avoid wasting time in favour of productive activities like education.
When Henry Ford launched just under 200,000 Model T cars in fall 1908, he must have known he was changing the automobile industry forever. But he also changed the world.
The introduction of the iconic automobile began the car's transition from a luxury to a necessity by offering a more efficient manner to travel.
The Model T's invention falls at the tail end of the second industrial revolution, concluding over a century of major productivity breakthroughs and inventions from Eli Whitney's cotton gin to Alexander Graham Bell's telephone.
This is the year Day-Timer Inc. was registered, but almost any milestone in that company's history is also a milestone for personal productivity. In 1952 Dorsey Printing, as Day-Timer was then called, began producing a planner customised for lawyers.
Soon the company was churning out similar tools for accountants and engineers. In the 1960s it released the Day-Timer, a scheduling system for the disorganized masses. Over the next decades as new sizes and formats appeared, choosing one's personal-planning system (desk or wall, page-a-day or page-a-week) became a year-end ritual.
Even today, nothing conveys the promise of new beginnings like the crisp, blank pages of a fresh wire-bound calendar.
This year Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and rendered the Internet widely accessible--effectively placing the world at our fingertips.
But in the ensuing two decades, has more time been saved or wasted as a result?
The term PDA (personal digital assistant) was first used by John Sculley to describe the Apple Newton at the 1993 Consumer Electronics Show.
PDAs begat smartphones which begat supermarket lines full of people tapping away on iPhones and BlackBerrys (instead of thumbing through Kim Kardashian pre-wedding coverage). More-time-saved-or-wasted? The question remains.
Tim Ferris topped the best-seller list with his prescription for a stripped-down work life in The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.
Predictably, he suggests restricting information calories by reducing time spent on the phone and checking emails.
More radical recommendations include outsourcing parts of your job to virtual overseas assistants who will do the professional equivalent of writing your term paper at very low rates.
Hotmail, Microsoft's e-mail service, sponsored a competition for the best ideas for time-saving inventions. Top prize went to the 'Hairwush,' which allows the hurried to simultaneously wash, condition, dry, and style their hair.
A combination alarm clock-coffee maker was among the other entries, and a watch that freezes time was deemed the ultimate time-saving device of the future.
In an accompanying survey men voted the computer the greatest time-saver ever. Women went for the washing machine.
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