As far as daily routines of historical figures go, Benjamin Franklin’s is well documented.
The founding father’s meticulous “scheme” consisted of waking up at 5 a.m. and asking himself “What good shall I do today?”
He then dove into work, reading, and socialising for the rest of the day, until he retired to bed at 10 p.m., The Atlantic reports.
At the end of the night, Franklin asked himself, “What good have I done today?”
In his autobiography, Franklin wrote that he never “arrived at the perfection [he] had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it.” However, he wrote that his attempts made him a better and happier man than he would have been otherwise.
Would I feel like a better and happier person at the end of trying out Franklin’s daily routine for a week?
I was about to find out.
The following is a rundown of Franklin's schedule, taken from his autobiography:
5 to 8 a.m.: 'Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day's business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast.'
8 a.m. to 12 p.m.: 'Work'
12 to 2 p.m.: 'Read or overlook my accounts, and dine'
6 p.m.: 'Work'
6 to 10 p.m.: 'Put things in their places, supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day.'
10 p.m. to 5 a.m.: 'Sleep'
This schedule looks ideal in theory, but I knew that day-to-day responsibilities and unpredictability would make it impossible to follow strictly. I didn't want to set an unrealistic expectation that would leave me disappointed in myself.
So I decided to use the schedule as a guideline. But I would be disciplined about dedicating myself to a virtue or two each day.
I also resolved to ask myself, 'What good will I do today?' when I woke up, and end each evening by contemplating the good I'd done.
One of the first tweaks I made to Franklin's routine was his wake-up time. I found 5 a.m. to be too early when I tried out Dorsey's morning routine, so I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. I ended up hitting the snooze button for 15 minutes. I blame Monday-morning grogginess.
I then did a 16-minute morning meditation, a habit I picked up from Huffington's and Dorsey's morning routines. I chose a guided meditation that focused on setting an intention for the day.
I picked silence as my Monday virtue, which Franklin defined as: 'Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.'
I took this to mean fighting the urge to provide my own thoughts when they aren't necessary, staying away from negative conversations, and listening closely to others.
After my meditation, I went for a four-mile run. Franklin doesn't say anything about physical activity, but after following the routines of successful people whose morning habits involved getting sweaty, I am addicted to the feeling.
When I came back from my run, I planned out my to-do lists, divided into 'work' and 'home.' I got to work at 9:15 a.m., and since I had already planned out my day, I got straight to it.
When the time came for a reading break, I took an hour instead of Franklin's two. I was planning to sit on the office roof and read the book I was currently engrossed in, 'The Gift of Fear' by Gavin de Becker.
Instead, I read longform articles over lunch that I thought might inspire story ideas. I noticed that when I gave myself permission to read the articles properly, as opposed to scanning them, I enjoyed discovering the little details.
That evening, I took a hot bath and reflected on the good I'd done that day. I then wrote down the day's successes, followed by how I thought I'd fared living the virtue I'd chosen that morning.
I felt that I kept chatter to a minimum, despite being surrounded by a talkative group of people. But I did realise I could have been better at blocking out distractions and maintaining my focus on a single thing.
After realising that I needed to build up my immunity to distractions, I decided that Tuesday's virtue was going to be order. Franklin's definition of order was, 'Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.'
I interpreted this as focusing on one thing at a time, without multi-tasking. As someone who often starts the day switching back and forth between tasks, I knew this would be a challenge.
I started off well, but had to switch focus a couple of times midday, when higher priorities came my way.
Proponents of single-tasking would probably disapprove, but being a digital journalist entails work that's reactive, as well as proactive.
Fortunately, I was able to transition into full focus mode on important tasks during the afternoon. In fact, I was so focused that I forgot to take my reading break until 2:30 p.m., when I'd completed the task.
Technically it wasn't a break, as I was reading articles from Business Insider's content partners, which is part of my job. However, again I felt like giving myself permission to take the time to digest the content was valuable.
After work, I went to the gym until 8:15 p.m. and spent the following two hours doing errands. I lost track of time, and, as a result, only reflected briefly on the good I did that day.
My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., but I hit snooze until 5:45 a.m. again.
After meditating, I planned out my day and spent the rest of the morning doing personal tasks. I was busy enough that I forgot to plan out a 'home' to-do list until I got to work.
This was the first glitch in maintaining my Wednesday virtue, resolution. 'Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve,' according to Franklin. A train delay foiled my resolution to get to work early -- the second glitch.
Fortunately, the rest of the day passed without drama.
I woke up tired at 6 a.m. and fuelled myself with two coffees in the morning.
I chose sincerity and industry as my virtues for Thursday. Franklin described sincerity as, 'Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly,' and industry as, 'Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.'
I took these to mean avoiding actions without real benefits and not thinking badly of people.
I was productive at work, but I forgot my virtues halfway through the day. I was reminded when I glanced at the notes I was taking for this experiment.
I am generally someone who tries her best to see the good in people, so I think I fared OK on that. Did I get rid of all unnecessary actions? I'm not so sure. After work I wasted time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, which was definitely not necessary.
That night, I found it difficult to reflect on my virtues before bed. It was starting to feel like a task that took too much brainpower. But I still did it, which forced me to come to terms with my shortcomings that day.
When I woke up, I realised that the only consistent thing I managed during this experiment was meditation.
Because my morning meditation involved thinking about the good I was going to that day, by extension I did that part of Franklin's routine perfectly this week.
Appropriately, I decided that my virtue for that day was going to be tranquility: 'Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.' I interpreted that as not sweating the small stuff -- another ongoing challenge for a type-A personality like myself.
On a Friday, I thought this would be an easy feat. But unfortunately, after a challenging run, I read depressing news and my morale plummeted. On my way to work, I started reading 'The Productivity Project' and got my positivity back.
Reflecting on the week came easily. Incidentally, when I made the active decision not to sweat the small stuff, there wasn't much stuff to annoy me anyway. It was a good end to the week.
What I learned
Taking the time to reflect on my day was the most valuable learning experience, but the most difficult to execute
During the experiment, I was surprised to find how naturally Franklin's planning came to me, but how difficult his reflection was to implement. I think it's because I'm always trying to be more productive, so I'm always on the lookout for different planning and tracking systems.
When it came to reflection, however, I adopted a more ad-hoc approach. The only consistent reflection I did prior to this experiment was seeing what I crossed off on my to-do list in a given day.
I fell short of following Franklin's schedule rigidly most days, and I think it was because I tried to accomplish too many things at once
In addition to attempting Franklin's routine, I also attempted to introduce his planning and reflection, as well as being consciously aware of how I was stacking up to the virtue I'd picked each day.
Therefore, it was easy to forget or mess up the habits. Keeping up with all of them at once became a little overwhelming.
However, I found his hour-to-hour breakdown extremely helpful as a guideline
While I didn't strictly follow Franklin's scheme hour by hour, I found the structure extremely useful.
For example, I scheduled my reading-related work tasks during my reading breaks, when I tended to be a little bit slower writing-wise.
Focusing on Franklin's virtues made me realise the importance of always trying to be a better person
While I am always looking for ways to improve professionally, I noticed that I don't always put the same emphasis on trying to be a better person.
When I tried out Arianna Huffington's bedtime ritual, I realised that prioritising self-care takes as much willpower as exercising consistently or making healthy eating a priority.
The same goes for character improvement. I realised that if I was going to try to be a better person, I needed to commit to a plan of action every day. Otherwise, it's easy to resort to bad habits.
At the end of the week, my sentiment mirrored Franklin's -- I felt happier while striving to be better, even when I didn't quite measure up
Knowing that I'm working toward being better and improving myself gave me a boost of happiness, particularly when I took the time to reflect on what I learned.
I also recognised the importance of reminding myself that imperfections will always exist. While bad habits don't disappear overnight, the first step to eliminating them is to be aware of them in the first place.
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