What I Learned When I Followed Benjamin Franklin's Schedule For A Week

As many of you know, I’ve been following in the steps of Benjamin Franklin all week long in an effort to find a better, and more productive, schedule for myself.

I’ve heard time and again that the most successful people in life rise and reflect before the sun does, so I figured why not give it a shot myself and see if I magically get successful over night too?

Even though I hated myself the second I hit “publish” on that post, because who the hell wants to wake up at 5 a.m. every day?

Well, it turns out people like ME do. Rocking this schedule was by far THE BEST THING I’VE DONE ALL YEAR, haha … Not only did I rise and shine each and every day on time, but I actually started looking forward to these 5 a.m.s as the evenings approached. That was the biggest shock of it all!

Now I didn’t succeed in all parts of his scheme (and in some, I downright failed), but the early morning block was the challenge hardest to overcome and proved to be the most beneficial.

Here was his schedule again (along with my tweaks, since apparently good ol’ Benny didn’t do much in terms of his household and raising his kids), along with everything I learned in trying to mimic him. It was quite enlightening.

Here’s what I learned trying to copy him:

The stillness of the morning is so beautiful. Everyone gives credit to the sunrise, but the entire week I found the quietness of the dark to be much more fulfilling. I even caught myself saying “no no no!” when I noticed the sky starting to get lighter!

The early wake ups slowed down time and helped me appreciate life more. We get so caught up in the quickness and tasks of the day that before you know it your head hits the pillow to start the day all over again. With rising early (and spending time in thought vs tasks), it really helped slow down the day before the madness hit.

It was nice to set your own tone for the day instead of outside influences! Like a crying baby, or text messages, calls, a bombardment of emails on your phone (a habit I killed over a year ago, btw, for precisely that — losing control before you even get out of bed). To be able to start the day with a foundation of peace and happiness absolutely just fills your soul. As sappy as that sounds.

I wasn’t stressed at all. Other than fearing I’d sleep in and screw up my record! (I set two alarms just in case — one at 5:00 and one at 5:10 — which saved me 3 out of the 5 days.)

It felt like a “secret club.” That’s how my friend Nate put it after joining me for a few days, and I have to agree. Everyone is sleeping, including the sun, and you and a handful of hustlers out there are up pondering life and processing all that “powerful good stuff!” to get the day started right. Which I later found out meant “praying," by the way, which was even better, since I was starting to feel like a bad Christian having not gone to church in quite some time since having kids!

My brain seemed to be able to soak stuff up more.  While I couldn’t quite sit there for 3 hours in reflection, I did learn and read more than I have in a long time. Like immersing myself in those 6 sources influencing our money, or when I stumbled across that whole Zero Waste Movement – a much more hardcore club! These were my favorites as they crossed over between personal time and then “work” time since I then had the need to share them with you ;)

It’s nice having 100% YOU time. Two-three hours to do whatever the hell you want! And more so if the inner-thought/praying stuff doesn’t happen to be your thing. I learned from others chiming in that they wake up early to sell stuff on eBay or work on other side hustles of theirs — other awesome ways to use your time.

I was able to work a lot more efficiently. The interesting part about this schedule was that it didn’t actually give me any *more* hours in the day (in fact, it gave me less since I had to be in bed so early every night!), but the hours I did have were spent a lot more productively than normal. In effect, I swapped out crappier hours worked at night with more focused and energetic ones during the day. It was kinda cool.

I didn’t care about work once the evening hit! I was so exhausted after being up so early and working so intently that I could have cared less about my projects after I shut down the computer. To some that might sound like he opposite of a good thing (looking at you, hustlers), but for all those who are self-employed, particularly in the online world (which never sleeps!), you’ll know how hard it is to turn off your brain sometimes. I love what I do, but over the years my projects have mixed with my social and “real” life making it all one big mash up now with no distinct lines. This schedule helped me define them more.

I had no trouble going to bed early. This was the second-biggest surprise of the experiment. I couldn’t fathom the idea of going to bed before 10 previous to this, but after said exhaustion I was out for the count between 9 and 10 every single night. Only once did I stay up “late” (10:45) to watch the Whitewalkers invade on Game of Thrones (so freaky!), and the next morning became the hardest of all days to wake up — oops.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

(You’ll see that Monday – the one day I woke up early at 4:47! – is missing here because I typed my thoughts into the laptop that day and quickly realized it was distracting. I soon switched to a comfy chair for the first hour all other mornings and enjoyed my alone time much better.)

The downsides to this schedule/my failings

It wasn’t all peachy trying to follow this schedule for a week. These were the areas I failed in:

I wasn’t as good reflecting in the evenings as I was in the mornings. That’s why you see a random smattering of check marks and x boxes in my notes. I was great at setting the goals but not so much following up on them. My hope was to have each day end full circle, but I really only spent a handful of minutes — if that — every other night going over them. (Though many of the goals were accomplished by week’s end – like the feelings of being appreciative and content.)

I only made “life” goals and not “work” ones. I had a to-do list each day, but that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I wanted to brainstorm more and think bigger picture with my projects, but I kept enjoying focusing on myself that I never ended up getting to it. I think this would change as the novelty wore off though and turned more into a happy medium.

I felt anxious not starting work right away (in the beginning). I’m so used to running right to the computer as soon as I have the time to do so, so those first few mornings were tough sitting there and reflecting instead. This got easier over the week though, and by the end of it I looked forward to the quality “me” time and soaked it up before eventually meandering over.

I didn’t spend as much time with my wife all week. The evenings are when we usually hang out and relax together after the kids go down (8-8:30ish), but since I was so exhausted and new I had to go to bed early. I usually just read for a while for a while or watched an occasional show (like that Game of Thrones episode). Sometimes she joined me, which was nice, but most days she continued on with her own schedule and that was the last I saw her ’til morning.

I couldn’t sit there for two hours reading and having lunch. I don’t know how Benny did it, but I was so rearing to go after having such a spark each morning (and taking a break to play/feed the kids) that I didn’t feel the need for such a long time to decompress. I didn’t last more than 45 minutes here, and most days it was only 20. Especially on those I took longer than normal walks (I never miss my walks!).

I didn’t do a single workout. My plan was to work out somewhere around 5 each day for 30 minutes or so, but not only was I starting to get incredibly tired, but I still found I hadn’t done everything I wanted to do yet work-wise. Since this new schedule didn’t give me any additional time — only *better* time. Though I did try and sneak in random push-ups here and there based on someone’s suggestion which felt good.

I didn’t focus on my finances as much as I wanted to. I had plans to figure out ways to shave off time to early retirement or to find hidden hacks laying around I hadn’t thought of before, but I got too caught up in thinking about life and learning new stuff that I never ended applying any time towards it. Outside of putting together last month’s net worth and trying to guestimate when we’d crack $500,000 (3 months?).

When all was said and done, I’d give myself the following grades:

  • Morning block: A+
  • Work period #1: A
  • Lunch: F
  • Work period #2: A
  • Evenings: C+ (great at going to bed early, not so much reflecting/spending time w/ wife)

Ben Franklin going forward …

As you can guess, I consider this test a pretty big success. I wasn’t able to check off all the areas I wish I could have hit, but having tried this for only a week I feel like I’d improve greatly over more time. Which is exactly what I’m going to do.

The Ben Franklin schedule continues on, baby!

I had such a great time that there’s no way I’m stopping this now. I want to see how far I can push it and try to improve on all those areas mentioned above (minus the 2-hour lunches), while continuing to reflect and appreciate life more.

I seriously urge you to try it yourself too if you’re able to. You don’t have to go hardcore at 5 a.m., or even spend your time in reflection, but even waking just ONE hour before you normally do can help you boost your productivity, and at the very least feel less *stressed.* I doubt you’ll be saying “I don’t have the time” anymore after starting that.

I think the only people this wouldn’t help are those who party hard or already waking up at 5. I’ve heard from a lot of you that have already nailed this habit and use the time incredibly well. Especially in the carrying out of side hustles and self-improvement.

P.S.: Interestingly enough, it turns out that Benjamin Franklin had trouble keeping up Benjamin Franklin’s schedule too. For “it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours.”

He also had great issue with the “Put things in their places” part because he “had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, [he] was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method.” I would just like to point out that I had no problem with that one at all.

Originally published on businessinsider.com