Industry / by AB Mann

Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

The modern equivalent to Franklin’s virtue of Industry is “productivity,” which I mean here differently than in previous discussions regarding Order. Productivity is the acting of that organization - doing. The “getting” of GTD.

The ideas align in the “always be employ’d” part of the virtue above. Franklin was forever doing stuff(1) like inventing, researching, reading, or walking down the street with barrows-full of paper to look as productive as possible(2). Work in colonial America had two-fold purpose.

1. It kept you free(er) from debt.

Many of America, colonists were debtors trying to start a new life if not run from their fiduciary responsibilities and avoid debtor’s prisons. Georgia, founded by James Oglethorp in 1732, was first populated mostly by English debtors in an attempt to reduce prison populations in England and offer safe haven to those seeking a fresh start.

2. It brought you salvation.

Puritans took an extreme interpretation of the Catholic idea of “good works.” The harder working a person, the better they were and the more likely to be one of the chosen (3) for heaven.

Franklin was more focused in reducing debt. In laying out his plan for moral perfection, he said this about industry,

"Frugality and Industry freeing me from my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice, etc., etc”

No one is truly good and free without hard work and diligence nor able to afford for themselves a proper life if that life is spent working off debt to others. That's his idea. The interesting thing to me is not that Franklin believed in work as its own reward (4) but as means to more useful ends. The harder you worked, the more likely you achieve autonomy to pursue your own desires and that was the ultimate in morality - a person being their best self.

While I am curious how work and pay functioned in colonial America where most of work was to produce things for sale and not based on salary, reducing frivolous time can be beneficial. An excess of time spent doing unhelpful things, like reading Facebook or fighting Twitter trolls, diminishes one’s effectiveness doing a job and ultimately has a negative effect on one’s mental health. Doing useful things keeps us sane.

As with anything, however, an excess of working can be just as bad. So, I take Industry to mean this:

  1. Be engaged in what you’re doing.
  2. Reduce wasteful time beyond what refreshes and relaxes you.

If we assume that our organization of a day from previous adherence to Order, staying, 1, engaged in the things we plan ensures that what we do gets done well and that we, 2, properly plan time to relax with appropriate amounts of diversion. But the getting of things done is not our exclusive purpose or need in life. We are not mindless productivity drones. Personally, I like my job (5) but do not want to spend all of my time doing it. I also like reading what people are doing on Facebook; it is comforting. But losing an hour to it amidst a work day ultimately increases stress where I’m not meeting promises made about my workday.

In short, really: Too much of work or diversion makes Jack a dull boy.




  1. Including embellishing his industriousness in his autobiography.

  2. “I sometimes brought home the paper I purchas'd at the stores thro' the streets on a wheelbarrow. Thus being esteem'd an industrious, thriving young man, and paying duly for what I bought, the merchants who imported stationery solicited my custom”

  3. Puritans were Calvinists and believed that one was predestined for heaven irrespective of deed but that one who was predestined would show it by doing good things in their lives.

  4. Raised Puritan, he likely was accustomed to work as its own reward though I think that idea is bunk given 3 above. People worked because they thought that was demonstrating their likelihood of salvation.

  5. Jobs if you count Bunny Rope.