Stop Procrastinating: 5 Tips From Ben Franklin
After scanning the long list of Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments, one can only come to one conclusion: The American Renaissance Man probably never had an idle day in his life. In his 84 years he became a prominent author, printer, politician, postmaster, satirist, inventor, musician, and diplomat.
There's much we can learn from Benjamin Franklin’s work habits and outlook on life that can increase our own productivity.
Here are five ways Franklin overcame the spectre of lazy, wasted days:
1. Start a group and share knowledge
When Franklin was 21, he was a struggling printer in Philadelphia. To increase his connections and to learn more about his industry, he created the Junto group-;a collection of tradesmen who wanted to better their craft and their community. The group had a large appetite for books, but books were expensive. Franklin helped start a library where books were bought and lent amongst Junto members. This sharing of knowledge, experience, and connections helped Franklin become a prominent and respected printer in Philadelphia.
The lesson for entrepreneurs: Find like-minded people and encourage discussion, conversation, and the exchange of ideas. A community of intellectual support will motivate you to get to work, sharpen your ideas, and impress your peers. Websites like Meetup.com and others make creating a local or even international group simple and easy.
2. Attack opportunities
“To succeed,” Franklin writes, “jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”
We can all agree, but when opportunity comes knocking we often look the other way. It’s not because we ignore new prospects. It’s because opportunity isn’t dressed the way we expect. We often think that opportunity comes only in the form of a golden egg or a million-dollar lottery ticket or a new job offer. But more often than not, opportunity comes in smaller, less ostentatious packages.
Opportunity rings your doorbell each time you’re invited to a meeting or someone asks you for a small favor. These random invitations and favors aren’t distractions-;they’re opportunities that open different doors and help you meet new people.
Young people are especially good at this. They are happy to take on any challenges, which is why Franklin wrote, “Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75.”
Lesson for entrepreneurs: Avoid procrastination by jumping at all opportunities, even if they appear to be distractions. Meeting new people, reinforcing old friendships, and helping distant colleagues will open the door for future opportunities.
3. Time is a commodity in short supply
Franklin writes, “Lost time is never found again.” This sentiment may sound like it came from the pen of a depressed poet, but it’s really an inspirational call to action.
Franklin worked, created, and lived knowing that time is scarce. He never put off his curiosity or creativity for the next day.
Franklin strikes this theme a lot. He writes, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”
Lesson for entrepreneurs: Procrastinators should view time as a scarce resource. Each day should be a laboratory wherein you work, discover, and create-;not a jail cell where you wait impatiently for a lucky break.
4. Make a list
Franklin, along with inventing bifocals and the lightning rod, is also said to have invented the pro-and-con list. Writing to Joseph Priestly, he described how he would resolve hard decisions by drawing by dividing a sheet of paper into “pro” and “con” columns. Then he’d write the best and worst aspects of a particularly tough choice, and eliminate the pros and cons that cancelled each other out. The side with the most items remaining won out.
Lesson for entrepreneurs: Chronic procrastinators would be wise to create their own pro-and-con lists as often as they can. Writing out and seeing the pros and cons of certain actions can generate productivity. Facing cons can be motivating while acknowledging pros can be inspiring.
5. Fail often; fail hard-;but don’t expect to
While Franklin was an able inventor we can be sure that his sketchbook contained a few far-off, doomed-to-fail ideas. Not every pen stroke Franklin made was straight, sound, and full of wit. And that was fine with Franklin.
Franklin writes, “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”
Procrastinators are often stunned into inaction by their fear of failure. They want their first efforts to be perfect and, in the end, never attempt anything of any significance.
On the other hand, the part-time procrastinator may be all too ready to fail. Franklin warns against this as well and comments, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Lesson for entrepreneurs: Don’t expect to be perfect. But don’t go jump into things expecting to fail, or eager to fail, either.
Procrastination is one of those unwanted guests that pops over every so often and doesn’t leave no matter how many hints you give. It’s an inevitable nuisance that can’t be obliterated, but it certainly can be controlled.
If all else fails you can rely on the following words from Franklin to buck up your resolve: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies
Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.