I know that for me, this isn’t always easy. I often feel like a ship being tossed around in a storm. It’s so frustrating looking back over the week and realizing that I didn’t accomplish much of substance aside from reacting to others’ concerns or responding to emails. In the absence of some kind of hard deadline like a conference proposal submission deadline, it can be hard to make time for things like reading journal articles, exploring new options for teaching (link), or dedicating time for writing. When I go back to faculty in the summer, I’m determined to be more strategic with how I spend my time, and I think Benjamin Franklin can help.
Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Schedule
When I was reviewing my list of blog feeds recently, I came across this great post by Shawn Blanc on Franklin’s daily schedule. In the post, he reviews the approach around which this creative genius structured his work and life. To summarize, Franklin segmented his days into the following six blocks of time:
- Getting ready for the day: shower, breakfast, personal study, and prepare for work (3 hours)
- Morning work (2 hours)
- Review of current projects and to eat lunch (2 hours)
- Afternoon work (4 hours)
- Dinner and rest and wrapping up the day (4 hours)
- Sleep (7 hours)
Three things strike me about this schedule. First, there is significant time allotted to prepare and rest at various points during the day. Second, margin is accounted for every day. Third, there is an emphasis on evaluating and recalibrating during the day as the inevitable unexpected opportunities and challenges arise. I’m thinking there’s a lot we can learn and appropriate from Franklin’s schedule to make our 21st century lives more purposeful and productive.
My Version of the Schedule
Getting ready for the day: my tasks would look pretty similar to Mr. Franklin’s here. In terms of personal study, I’d want to include reading around topics, issues and ideas that are important to me. I don’t mean digging into a collection of journal articles as part of writing a paper. What I’d like to focus on is reading a curated collection of blogs, podcasts, and non-fiction books that are related to something I’m interested in. For example, in my study on innovation, I’ve been enjoying reading Little Bets by Peter Sims. I’d conclude this portion of my day with goal setting. I’d try to identify 2-3 key tasks or goals that I want to pursue. This would set up the subsequent work sessions later in the day. I might finally spend 15-20 minutes on triaging my email to make sure there isn’t anything critical that I’d need to plan around for later in the day.
Morning work: the morning is when I do my best thinking. In this block of time I’d make sure to keep my email closed (with no alerts or notifications) to make sure I can focus on one of my key goals for the day. This is when I would typically do any significant writing or synthesizing of information. This point of the day is perfect for more academic reading or course planning Or providing students with feedback on their work.
Midday “reset”: like Mr. Franklin, I would take this opportunity to break for lunch. Rather than review projects, which I would have already done, I’d take some time to get outside and stretch my legs. I find that this really helps clear my head and helps me to transition into the next portion of the day.
Afternoon work: during this block of time, I would do more routine tasks and meet with others. Because I’m not as fresh mentally at this point, it would be helpful to save these kinds of tasks for the afternoon. If I have heavy-duty work to do at this point of the day, I might get out of the office to work in a coffee shop or park, which usually helps me to focus.
Dinner, rest, and wrapping up the day: I think it’s really important to take the last 30-60 minutes of the day to wrap up and position myself for the next day. This is where I’d attend to email, Twitter, and update my Todoist task list. Ideally, I’d review the day and identify and celebrate the progress I’ve made. After I’ve done this, I can make a hard break with work and enjoy the evening with my family.
Sleep: I’m more of an 8-hour a night guy, myself.
This schedule is perhaps a bit idealistic. Things don’t always work out so cleanly in the real world. I think, though, that if we aspire to a schedule that builds in time for reflection and rest, situating tasks according to our energy levels, and prioritizing proactive over reactive work, we’d all be better off.
What tips and strategies do you use to make the most of your day?
Please post your comments below.