How To Manage Time Wisely: Lessons Learned From Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin played many roles throughout his lifetime. He was a leading author, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, diplomat, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

In his autobiography[1], Franklin laid out how he attempted to live his day following the schedule below.

Daily schedule of Benjamin Franklin

The schedule was intense. And there is no shortage of people started to think this is how they should live their day in order to accomplish success.

Yes, it’s undeniable that spending your time efficiently plays a critical role in your success. But more often than not, a rigid schedule like this only contributes to more trouble rather than making you more productive.

Instead of fitting yourself into an insane schedule, here’s how to manage time wisely — so that you accomplish more in the same 24 hours as everyone else has.

The Lack of Time is a Prioritization Problem

Let me guess, you’re juggling multiple roles right now — from trying to be a good spouse or parent to improving your work performance to starting a business on the side.

On top of that, you’re responsible for managing various areas of your personal life from money to health to relationships.

It’s easy to think that we have too much to do and too little time for all of them. Everywhere you go, you can find someone who won’t stop complaining about how busy they are and how they wish to have more time for the things they want to do.

The reality is, we all have 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week — which includes Benjamin Franklin and everyone else who you admire and look up upon. Did they get an extra hour every day compared to everyone else? No.

If you feel like you don’t have enough time, remember this: You don’t have a time problem, you have a prioritization problem.

If something is important and urgent enough, you’ll make the time to get it done. Instead of hoping to have more time, find out what’s less important that you’re currently doing and remove it. Then, do more of what’s important to you. For example:

  • Stop watching motivational fitness videos on YouTube and start working out.
  • Delegate lower value tasks like cleaning the house and doing laundry (hire someone to do it) and spend more time on your side business.
  • Use Warren Buffett’s 25/5 Rule to remove unimportant goals so you can focus solely on the top goals.

Focus and Attention Make Time Valuable

It’s counterintuitive, but I’m going to say this: your time has no value.

Yes, you get it right. Your time has no value by itself. It’s what you do with your time that makes it valuable. That’s why some people are willing to trade an hour for $5, and some others don’t sweat paying thousands and thousands of dollars to buy their time back.

Diving deeper into the concept, you can spend a lot of time getting nothing done other than wasting it, or you can spend the time purposely on your top priorities.

Often, it’s not just about how much time you spend on a particular task, but it’s also about how focused you are when spending that time. To make your time more valuable, you must spend it effectively — by managing your energy and attention instead of your time.

Our energy and attention level work in cycles known as the Circadian Rhythm. It rises and falls throughout the day. The key is to schedule what you do around these ebbs and flows.

Manage time wisely by managing your energy

Another trick I recommend a lot on my blog and productivity program is to limit your daily to-do list to a maximum of five tasks.

Then, add those tasks to your calendar. It gives you a better sense of how you’ll be spending your time, so you’re not overcommitting to too many things in a day.

Spend Your Time on the Keystones

By now, it’s obvious that not all time spent provides an equal value and leads to a similar outcome.

15 minutes could feel like a short amount of time to you, but it might feel like a long time for someone else. Taking it further, it could feel different for you at different points of life.

In his book The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg introduces the concept of the Keystone Habit, positive habits that can lead to the formation of more positive habits and eventually create a massive behavioral transformation.

To manage your time wisely and maximize its impact, spend it on Keystones — activities and routines that will have a cascading impact down the road. It’s the same idea I share in an article about prioritizing meta-skills.

Here are some examples to help you get started:

  • Spend time on critical areas of your life. Maintain good health, develop healthy relationships with others, manage your finances well.
  • Spend time on learning. Practice the latest skill sets you need to advance in your career, observe your behaviors and improve them, learn about learning.
  • Spend time on getting less wrong with reality. Ask better questions, look for and learn from mentors, create a set of principles to make better decisions in the future.

Quit Squeezing Yourself into Time Blocks

Managing your time wisely is crucial because in many cases, time is your biggest leverage. Regardless of your goals — leveling up a skill, accumulating wealth, developing a new habit — their impacts get compounded with effective time management.

But time management is never about squeezing yourself into time blocks. It’s more about learning what to prioritize and how to manage attention.

Here’s the full story: Even Benjamin Franklin himself couldn’t keep up with his schedule. As mentioned before, Franklin found that the schedule he created for himself gave him the most trouble. In Franklin’s own words:

I enter’d upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continu’d it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.

Guilt is never a good strategy. Instead of beating himself up not being able to keep up with the intense schedule, Franklin approached it as a form of reflection on what he didn’t do well.

And like any genius, he didn’t aim to get everything right all the time — but less wrong over time.

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