MOST of us know Benjamin Franklin as the inventor of bifocals and the man who flew a kite in a storm to prove that lightning was a form of electricity.
Franklin was also a printer and newspaper publisher, postmaster, civic activist, scientist, inventor, diplomat, and drafter of the American Declaration of Independence. Where did he find the time to accomplish so much?
Franklin was also America's first self-improvement guru. At the age of 27, he began his grand goal, loftily titled "Project of arriving at moral perfection".
He identified a dozen virtues and developed a system to attain them. They were temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity and chastity. When a friend suggested that Franklin seemed proud, he added humility to the list.
Realising that it would be difficult to focus on all of these areas at once, Franklin focused on one a week. It was quite a challenge. While he never achieved moral perfection, he benefited greatly from the exercise.
Perfection is an impossibly high standard. The perfectionist is essentially telling himself that nothing he does will ever be good enough!
Franklin recognised this and moderated his goal. He was not perfect, but he was astonishingly productive and successful throughout his life. When you examine his list and how he approached it, you begin to understand why.
"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of," Franklin wrote.
Valuing time is a no-brainer for most of us, as we seem to have too little time and struggle to make the most of it. But valuing time and actually using our time productively are two different things.
Three of Franklin's virtues address the need to work at valuing time and using it wisely: Resolution, order and industry.
Resolution means making good on your promises, implementing and executing, and following through to completion. It requires persistence and determination.
Order means being organised and systematic, planning and prioritising your activities. Industry means working hard, focusing on your objectives and being productive. The one personal quality behind all of these is discipline.
What wisdom does Franklin offer us in terms of discipline - doing the work of valuing our time and managing our priorities?
He arranged his objectives into a system. He proceeded step by step. He broke his main objective - self-improvement - into smaller goals. He focused on them one at a time. He measured his progress by keeping track of how many times he erred, and he reviewed his progress regularly.
By creating a system to help himself focus on his goals and measure his progress, Franklin was able to accomplish far more than his contemporaries.
Systems are critical in any time management regimen. It is not enough to return e-mail and phone calls, handle paperwork and prepare reports on an ad hoc basis.
A sporadic approach will produce sporadic results. Setting aside time for performing routine tasks, using templates for your work, and having systems in place allow you to be both effective and efficient.
Another feature of Franklin's approach was repetition. He focused on one objective every week, completing the cycle in 13 weeks and repeating the entire cycle four times a year. He repeated the process year after year.
To use his own words, "Energy and persistence conquer all things." Using time effectively is a matter of habit, and habits come from repetition.
Finally, Franklin organised and planned. The key to managing your time is organising your activities and planning strategies to complete them.
Every day should begin with a planning session. Part of this planning time should be in creating a prioritised "to do" list. In other words, you must have a system for organising and planning.
Someone once said: "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." I don't think it was Franklin, though but it could have been!