Hate rigidity? Hate Schedules? Try working like Benjamin Franklin. Let me explain.
I’m not really into rigidity. I hate scheduling that doesn’t allow me room to wriggle and adjust. In fact, I know myself well enough to know that if I impose too tight a schedule on myself then I’ll just break it. Almost deliberately.
Essentially I don’t really like to be told what to do. Even when the person doing the telling is me.
To some, that might sound ridiculous. But actually it’s a common problem among certain personality types. Impose rules and regulations that are too tight, and they’ll just get broken. Impose routines and schedules that are too rigid, and you’ll never stick to them.
The problem is that to make the most of our productivity, having some sort of structure is actually really important. Even if you’re a bit of a free spirit. In fact, perhaps especially if you’re a bit of a free spirit.
The trick is to get the structure right. That means giving yourself a framework, but allowing yourself room within that framework for manoevre. Freedom within a framework.
For me, a really good example of this is Benjamin Franklin’s schedule. When I first discovered it, my first reaction was probably something along the lines of, “Ugh, a strict schedule with a 5am start. I hate it.” And I had discovered it in the context of people trying to live according to it – ie starting their day at 5am and doing just what he did, which for me, holds no real attraction.
Don’t get me wrong, I have tried the 5am start. And I get why people do it. I got lots of work done. But it made me utterly useless for family time in the evening, and that’s too important for me. So it’s not something that stuck.
But when I looked more closely at this schedule, I realised that there was something that connected with me. I realised that actually, if you take away the exact times that he did things, this is not a strict schedule at all. This is a really sound framework, with plenty of room to allow freedom within it.
So here’s my take on where Benjamin Franklin had this absolutely right, and what you need to do to use this for yourself.
- Franklin took time each morning to work out what he would get on with that day. He’d effectively write his to-do list. This is a great way to start your day – just going through what needs to be done and prioritizing accordingly. You don’t HAVE to rise at 5am to do this. But ensuring that you are properly prepared for your day before launching into it is definitely a good idea.
- Apportioning time for certain types of activities (rather than specific ones) is a great idea. I may not be a natural 5am riser, but I do know that my most productive time is between 8.30 and 10.30am. So during that time, I know I want to be working on the important stuff.
- Franklin did a bit of work on his accounts every day. He actually has that specific activity scheduled in. Whilst I will admit to hating rigidity, this sort of regular, consistent activity pays dividends (sometimes literally) – being on top of your accounts in your business is so important, and can actually lead to the success (or failure, if you don’t keep on top of them) of your business. You don’t have to do it over lunch, but get into a habit of a quick 20 minute stint popping data in and keeping an eye on your cash flow.
- Franklin actually scheduled time for the really important stuff. You know, eating and sleeping, that sort of important stuff. Know how many hours you need to sleep, and make sure you have it! It can be very tempting, when you are short of time, to cut down on sleep to fit everything in. Try not to succumb to this temptation – sleep is essential to functioning properly, and you’ll work far more efficiently if you are properly rested.
- Asking yourself, “What good shall I do this day?”, and then reflecting on the good that you have done, is an incredibly positive approach to your day. “Good” can be anything that moves you forward in a positive way. It might be a case of celebrating achievements for yourself, or recognising ways you have helped others, but either way, it gives you the opportunity to celebrate the positive.
- Spending a few minutes “putting things in their order” will reward you enormously. Having a nice, neat space to live in, as free from clutter as life will allow, will mean you feel calmer and more prepared to tackle the challenges ahead of you. Getting into a habit (notice, I avoid the word ‘routine’!) of tidying up after yourself and clearing your space each day is going to set you up nicely for a relaxing evening, and a productive following day.
- And lastly, my FAVOURITE bit of this schedule is the fact that there is time put aside for “diversions”. Music, conversation. Relaxation, essentially. Things that are not work related. These are such an important part of life, but they’re so easy to overlook or decide they are low priority. Make them as much part of your day as work. Talk to your family. Do something you love to do. Relax and refresh your mind. Your future self will thank you for it.
Schedules and structures don’t have mean that you decide how every last minute is spent. If you’re not suited to a strict routine, it’s a total waste of time working like that. But setting out a rough framework will help you use your time more efficiently, as well as helping you recognise what is actually important to you.
Try it out, and let me know how you find it!
©Liz Wootton, 2014. All Rights Reserved.