Track Productive Progress

Benjamin Franklin

Friday I talked about principles Benjamin Franklin used to define success in his quest for self-improvement. He clearly articulated what he was trying to achieve in the form of thirteen virtues, and I encouraged you to similarly define your productivity goals. What does productivity look like to you?

Once you’ve determined your goals, you can start looking at how Ben implemented and tracked his efforts.

Ben wasn’t looking to create one-time improvements in his behavior; he was looking to make new habits. That presented some particular difficulties since he was looking at thirteen categories for his habits.

He said, “My intention being to acquire the Habitude of all these Virtues, I judg’d it would be well not to distract my Attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time.” He knew that trying to tackle everything he considered to constitute virtuous living would be impossible, and would only be discouraging. It’s the same way with improving your productivity: you should only take on one piece at a time. A complete and total overhaul will be unsustainable, and repeatedly falling far short of your goals will only depress you and make it harder to dedicate yourself to improvement.

Self-improvement Chart

To track his improvement efforts, one virtue at a time, Ben developed a chart on which he had the days of the week going across the top and then a row of thirteen lines, one representing each of his virtues, going down the page. He recorded his infractions against the virtue of the week every day, and for each transgression he put a black mark on that virtue’s line. (His virtues were Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility. He seems to have had some trouble with silence and order.)

It’s remarkable that he considered his failures every day. You should do something similar when you’re striving to put new productive habits and rituals into place. Evaluate your efforts frequently. At the end of the day, or possibly the workday or the week (depending on what sort of success you’re aiming for), consider your successes and your slip ups. Use them as reality checks so you can focus your efforts on things that trigger differences in your productivity. If certain situations influence a slip, fix those situations or avoid them entirely. If others increase your output, foster them and seek them out.

The principle you should take away from Benjamin Franklin’s self-improvement efforts isn’t really in his chart. The important takeaway idea is to raise your awareness of your actions so you can act on purpose and choose better habits. Too often we let our normal means and methods run amok with our goals and dreams and we don’t take the time to pause and think about what we’re doing. So next time you make a goal for your productivity, take a few minutes at the end of the day to see how you’re doing. Check up on yourself again and again until you’ve instilled the new habit so deeply that you can trust it to stay right where it is.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *