In his autobiography, Ben Franklin discusses the time when he’d first committed himself to following the 13 virtues he considered necessary for “moral perfection”:
"I propos’d to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning."
These include several of the values typically associated with Franklin, including “Industry” and “Frugality” (remember, he’s the original “healthy, wealthy, and wise” guy).
This kind of bold and squirrely plan—reportedly followed “pretty faithfully” until late in his life—illustrates nicely why Franklin is regarded as the spiritual father of life hacks, but it’s his novel record-keeping that exposes him as a true geek.
From this Flamebright.com page on Franklin:
"He tracked his progress by using a little book of 13 charts. At the top of each chart was one of the virtues. The charts had a column for each day of the week and thirteen rows marked with the first letter of each of the 13 virtues. Every evening he would review the day and put a mark (dot) next to each virtue for each fault committed with respect to that virtue for that day.
Naturally, his goal was to live his days and weeks without having to put any marks on his chart. Initially he found himself putting more marks on these pages than he ever imagined, but in time he enjoyed seeing them diminish. After awhile he went through the series only once per year and then only once in several years until finally omitting them entirely. But he always carried the little book with him as a reminder."
As wikipedia notes, “He eventually realizes that perfection is not to be attained, but feels himself better and happier because of his attempt.”
Sounds like a successful project to me. He had a plan, he checked his progress, and, then, despite falling short of “perfection,” he ended up a little better than when he started off. Plus, he certainly must have developed a more mindful outlook along the way. And, of course, he did invent that cool little book—a surprisingly Excel-like tracking app—and that you just gotta admire for pure nerdery.
1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.
2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.
6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.
11. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
More on The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:
Full text of Franklin’s autobiography (Bartleby):
Reference to section quoted above (Bartleby):
Wikipedia article on the autobiography: