What Ben Franklin Teaches us about Productivity

I’m just completing my executive masters in the neuroscience of leadership and one of my primary profs was a super smart (and really nice) Ph.D., Josh Davis. His new book, Two Awesome Hours releases today. You can learn more about his book here. If you want to up your productivity game, this is the book to read. Josh is my guest writer today and you’ll enjoy his story below about Ben Franklin’s productivity.

Two people push together letters to form the word Productivity

 

There’s probably no one more famous for his industriousness than Benjamin Franklin. People the world over agree he was a model of effectiveness and productivity. He was frustratingly capable. His list of accomplishments is absurd: author, inventor, scientist, printer, philosopher, politician, postmaster, diplomat, and more. How can any human being do this much in a lifetime? A quick look at his rise as a printer and publisher—his primary profession—sheds some light on the way he worked and, in the process, reveals a lot about what we are doing right and what we are not.

By 1724, at the age of eighteen, Ben Franklin had already apprenticed in a printing house in Boston, worked independently in a printing house in Philadelphia, and published a handful of widely read articles. That year he left for England, where he would learn the printing trade from the best, such as Samuel Palmer, a well-established printer. Not bad for a poor kid with sixteen siblings.

While working at Palmer’s, Franklin quickly annoyed and impressed those around him with his work ethic and cleverness. His coworkers drank beer from morning to night; he drank water so he could have the physical stamina to outperform them and save a little money. You might say it was easier to have a competitive advantage in those days, but Franklin gets credit for seeing the opportunity, taking the risk, and following through. Ultimately, he was promoted and he moved to an even better firm.

When he returned to Philadelphia a couple of years later, he was willing to do what it took to establish himself. After working for another printer for a few years, he took on debt to set up his own business. With a print shop at his disposal, and in need of cash, he identified another opportunity: publishing his own material. There was only one newspaper in town, which Franklin considered “a paltry thing, wretchedly manag’d, no way entertaining.” He knew he was the only printer in the area who also had the ability to write well, so he tried his hand at publishing newspapers and eventually Poor Richard’s Almanack. Almanacs have space to fill, apart from their noteworthy dates. Franklin filled the empty spaces with his (now famous) proverbs, making his almanac more entertaining and much easier to sell. Poor Richard’s Almanack was a hit.

In order to secure the success of his printing business, he also took on the position of clerk of the General Assembly, which allowed him to meet plenty of people who had a say in where government printing (things like ballots and money) was done, and he eventually landed the job of postmaster in Philadelphia, which helped him circulate his newspaper. These positions offered small pay and meant extra work, but they also allowed his printing business to take off, helping him become a man of some status in town.

Benjamin Franklin was and still remains a beautiful example of productivity and achievement. Work hard, take on more and more, and success will follow. Today, everyone thinks they have to be like Franklin to achieve some success. They have to do more than what seems possible. But the truth is, not even Franklin was like Franklin. As it turns out, beyond taking care of his finances, he was anything but focused on work.

We seldom talk about this other Franklin, hardly the live-for-your-job icon we sometimes think of. But I didn’t have to look hard to find out more about him: it’s in his autobiography. He loved to think and create. He spent huge amounts of time on hobbies and with friends when he could have been working at his moneymaking career as a printer. In fact, the very interests that took him away from his primary profession led to so many of the wonderful things he’s known for, like inventing the Franklin stove and the lightning rod.

To understand the secret to his success, I believe it’s crucial to look at how he spent his downtime and just how much of it he had.

One of his main hobbies as a young man was hanging out every Friday with a group of guys who were seriously into books and talking about ideas. The group would agree on a topic to discuss at the next meeting, and each would read what he could on the subject so he could come back prepared to argue. Books, however, were hard to come by in Philadelphia back then; many needed to be ordered from England. Franklin’s group realized it would be nice to keep all their books in one place so they could check one another’s references easily—a concept that led eventually to the great and historic public library now called the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Franklin did not found the library when he was around age twenty-five to make money for his printing business, nor was it part of a government position he held. He simply put time into founding this library because he enjoyed talking about ideas, especially ideas that would lead to improving himself and the world around him. He loved literature and art. He even wrote some music for his wife. And, famously, he was an incurable flirt, spending a great deal of time wrapped in that pursuit after his wife’s death. He was also the original American self-help junkie. He tried vegetarianism briefly because he’d read about it in a book—and loved all the money he saved. Plus, he poured tons of time and energy into developing a plan to practice his now famous thirteen virtues. Of those thirteen virtues, one jumps out as seemingly relevant for anyone trying to pack in as much work in a day as possible: the virtue of Order (i.e., being organized). Franklin claimed he never really got good at that one, writing in his autobiography, “In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.”

He earned a reputation for enjoying the many pleasures of life—from learning to socializing to flirting to creating. It seems dazzling that he could do so much work professionally and still enjoy so much hobby, leisure, and social time. So how did he do it?

Every day he created the mental and biological conditions for peak effectiveness, and in those periods of effectiveness, he accomplished extraordinary things. He did not cram tasks related to his printing business into every available hour. In fact, in a plan he drew up for how to spend his days he included time for a two-hour break for lunch and other things, time in the evening for “music or diversion, or conversation,” and a full night’s sleep. It was probably because he made time for pleasure, learning, creativity, entertainment, physical health, family, and social connection that he was so successful in his moneymaking work, rather than in spite of it.

Devoting all of his time to his printing business rather than his other interests would have been the most efficient use of his time. But imagine how little we would know of him had he done so, had he never reserved the mental space and energy for his many inventions, for his philanthropy, and perhaps even for his printing empire.

Which Benjamin Franklin do you want to be: the one who carved out time for his hobbies and social pastimes, jumping from interest to interest? Or the one who outperformed his competitors to become a productive, well-regarded, and wealthy businessman? These days, it seems there isn’t enough time for both, so we must choose to either enjoy life or succeed. The good news is that this is a false choice. We feel pressured to choose when we mistakenly assume that productivity depends on finding enough hours in the day.

Permission granted from Dr. Josh Davis to use this excerpt. Learn more about his book here.

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5 Ways to Minimize Decision Fatigue

In my last post I shared 4 signs that decision fatigue has affected your decision making. Decision fatigue is a term that describes how a long series of decisions can actually diminish the overall quality of future decisions. Many leaders have unwittingly diminished their leadership effectiveness by making too many decisions. Ego depletion is a related concept that simply means the tireder you get, the less emotional self control you have. In this post I suggest 5 counter balances to decision fatigue.

 

Stress concept

First, a re-cap of the signs decision fatigue is affecting your decisions.

  1. You make quick, impulsive decisions you later regret you made.
  2. You needlessly delay decisions. This is the counterpoint to the impulsive decision noted above.
  3. You send thoughtless, terse emails.
  4. You get mad when someone asks you for a decision. 

Consider these 5 ways to minimize decision fatigue.

  1. Make important decisions when you feel mentally and physically rested. Many decisions don’t take much thought time. However, really important ones take our full mental and spiritual capacity. When we’re tired, we simply don’t make the wisest decisions (decision fatigue). So, when faced with an important decision, evaluate if you can give it your best at that moment. If you can’t, delaying the decision may be the wisest choice.
  2. Delegate many decisions. One tool I use with staff when they ask me for a decision is this. I ask them, “What do you think?” This encourages their own insight and often the staffer will find his own answer which motivates him even more because he owns the solution.
  3. Don’t make spur-of-the-moment decisions when it creates unnecessary work for you. Often the decisions we make add more work to our plate. When faced with a decision, ask if it will create more work for you. Sometimes the correct decision will require you give more time to the project or the person. Those we should not avoid. However, other decisions may best not be made to avoid unnecessary work for you.
  4. Sometimes you must gracefully decline when someone asks you to make a decision. If the issue doesn’t pertain to your role, ministry, vision, mission, or values, sometimes we simply need to say,”No,’ to the person asking us for that decision. You can read more about gracefully saying no here.
  5. Always seek God’s wisdom when you make decisions. James wisely counsels us in James 1.5.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1.5, NIV)

What has helped you make the wisest decisions?

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4 Signs Decision Fatigue is Degrading your Decisions

When we think about fatigue, we usually think of physical tiredness…we worked too hard in the yard, we didn’t sleep well the night before, or we’re working too many hours. Fatigue certainly includes those causes, but for many Christian leaders, or any leader for that matter, another kind of fatigue can rob our energy and diminish leadership effectiveness. It’s called decision fatigue. It refers to how the quality of our decisions degrades after a long string of successive decisions. In other words, the more decisions you make, the more the quality of those decisions declines.

Judges make less favorable decisions later in the day and decision fatigue even affects consumer choices. So what might indicate that your decisions are affected by decision fatigue?

decisions

I’ve learned the effects of decision fatigue by experience.

A year and a half ago I began a new ministry as lead pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario. It’s been a great ministry but I’ve faced a staff shortage during that time. As a result, almost every staff person reported to me which required me to make many more decision about ministry than I normally would. We recently added two outstanding new pastors and I’m thrilled at their being with us. However, during the past year and a half, I’ve seen decision fatigue sometimes affect me.

Four indicators decision fatigue may be degrading the quality of your decisions. 

  1. You make quick, impulsive decisions you later regret you made. This happens because you want to quickly get one more thing off your plate and the quick decision seems to solve the problem. However the real problem may be making the decision too quickly without sufficient information you need to make the best one.
  2. You needlessly delay decisions. This is the counterpoint to the impulsive decision. When we get mentally tired, we can easily put off a decision that needs to made now. Sometimes I’d move an email into another folder that still required a decision from me that I could have easily made right then. By doing so I actually doubled the time I spent making the decision because I still had to read the email again to make the decision. By doing so, I took up two chunks of time and two chunks of mental energy.
  3. You send thoughtless, terse emails. I probably get 150 plus emails a day, many of them requiring a decision from me at some level. I’ve found that when I’ve had to make multiple decisions during the day, toward the end of the day I’m tempted to not think as clearly before I send an email. This post points out common email errors.
  4. You get mad when someone asks you for a decision. When this happens our mental chatter sounds like this. “Great, one more decision I have to make for somebody else!” The term ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control diminishes over time when we we have already exerted lots of self control. Toward the end of the day or a week when a leader has had to make too many decisions, he may find himself losing his cool more easily, flying off the handle, or saying thing things he shouldn’t.

As you look at the number of decision you are making, to what degree does decision fatigue affect you?

In my next post I’ll suggest ways to minimize decision fatigue.

P.S. My latest book just released. It’s called Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry. You can read more about it here and you can get a free chapter by signing up for my blog postings in the right hand column on this page.

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Top 10 Reasons People Don’t Tithe

Tithing is a spiritual discipline many Christians practice. In its simplest form it means giving back to God 10% of what you make. I’ve practiced it for years as a regular part of my giving. I tithe ‘plus’ to my local church and I give to other causes on top of that. However, throughout my 35 years of ministry I’ve seen 10 common reasons that church people give for not tithing. I list them below with a counter point below each.

Tithe Letterpress
  1. It’s all mine anyway. Why should I give?
    • Counter-point (CP): Everything we own is actually God’s (Ps 50.10, Ps 24.1).
  2. I give elsewhere. This is the person who counts his giving to secular causes, his time, or paying for his child’s Christian school tuition as his tithe.
    • CP: Do causes around the purposes of God get the lion’s share of your giving?
  3. Tithing is not in the New Testament. This is one of the most common.
  4. God will provide through other people. This person believes that other people will give to support the cause of Christ in their church.
    • CP: God chose to release His resources through all believers.
  5. My gifts don’t really count. This person thinks that because he can’t give much, his giving really doesn’t matter.
    • CP: Don’t minimize the size of any gift (recall the story of the poor widow in Mark 12.41-44).
  6. I don’t trust preachers. This is understandable due to the few high profile ministers who misuse God’s money.
    • CP: If you lead a church, make sure you instill the highest standards of stewardship and accountability.
  7. I only give to projects I like. This is the control freak who only gives to projects he or she can designate funds to. Some people in this category even hold back their giving in their church because they haven’t gotten their way.
    • CP: Trust your church leadership to wisely manage God’s money.
  8. I have no control over my finances. My husband does. In this case (and it’s almost always a wife in this position) her husband controls the finances and although the wife wants to give, he prohibits it.
    • CP: Rest in the Lord, He knows your heart.
  9. I will tithe when I can afford it.
  10. I’m afraid to. These people honestly fear what might happen to them or their family if they give.
    • CP: Step out in faith knowing that God promises to meet your needs.

What reasons have you heard people use to justify not giving or tithing?

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4 Questions to Help you Discover your Leadership Bias

This past Thursday 65 leaders from Southern Ontario attended our first annual Nfluence conference at West Park Church, London. It was a great time to learn from three seasoned pastors, Dr. Dom Ruso, Steve Adams, and myself. In one session Dom explained how to empower the next generation. One insight he shared that particularly struck me was this. In order to empower the next generation of leaders, we must become aware of our own leadership bias. We all have a leadership bias and must recognize it to effectively integrate young leaders. So, how do we do that? 

First, what is leadership bias? Simply put, leadership bias is the subtle tendency in leaders to only look for leaders like us. 

This bias, according to Dom, can greatly restrict engaging emerging leaders. If we only see potential in young leaders who act and lead like we do, we can miss potential leaders. And unless older leaders do a better job of engaging young leaders, we’ll only reach our demographic and miss the young demographic that often views church as irrelevant.

Bias Getting Over Unfair Treatment Racism Prejudice

The first place to start to engage young leaders is to discover your own leadership bias. These four questions may help you discover your bias.

  1. Who is your leadership hero? The qualities you see in that hero will tell a lot about what you look for in potential leaders. At the same time those qualities can reveal who you may overlook because they don’t fit your expectations.
  2. Do you tell yourself that you don’t have any biases? If you do, you just revealed that that you are biased. No one is bias free.
  3. Do you have younger leaders in your life that you listen to? When we invite younger leaders to speak into our lives, we can learn much from their perspectives that in turn can reveal our own biases.
  4. Related to number 3 above, to what degree do you invite younger leaders into your decision making? Often older leaders assume that younger leaders lack the wisdom that comes from age. Although age can foster wisdom, 30-year-old eyes can often see current culture more clearly than can 50 or 60-year-old eyes.

If you’d like to discover your biases, consider taking the Harvard-based Implicit Associations Test. It’s free and it’s here.

What do you think? Is leadership bias that big a deal? How have you learned to deal with your own biases?

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