The Original GTDer / by AB Mann

The precept of Order requiring that every part of my business should have its allotted time, one page in my little book contain'd the following scheme of employment for the twenty-four hours of a natural day.
- Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, chapter IX

Benjamin Franklin was probably the first productivity guru. Arguably, his books Poor Richard’s Almanac, a book of proverbs and aphorisms to guide behavior, The Way To Wealth, a booklet intended to teach people how to free themselves from debt, and his autobiography (1) which I have reference frequently were the first productivity guides ever written.

Today, people spend millions of dollars a year on productivity and self-help guides intended to make them more efficient, more profitable, more organized human beings. David Allan’s Getting Things Done, which is one of my favorite productivity books, is #38 on Amazon’s self-help book list. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is #1. Similar ones by Dale Carnegie rank #1 in Self-help sub categories too (2).

The reductionist summary of these systems, and most productivity tools, is “do things when they need to get done, not later.” There is a right time and place for each task you have and you should seek to do therm at that time. “Right time” is an elusive concept and one we would do well to consider.

There are two extremes to right time - right now and ever later. When you have no time defined for a task, it gets left to “later” until “task” becomes a crisis. Or, worse, you respond immediately to everything that takes your attention and never get to “task”, again, until it becomes a crisis. Half of a proper ordering scheme is defining when you’re going to do your things so that you don’t become either a drone to your tasks or an email worker.

I think Franklin had it right with his routine, referenced earlier, right at the beginning of his day:

Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day's business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study; and breakfast.

Planning. Not only planning but setting and keeping to a goal for each day of work. It is impractical to think that you can avoid the constant influx of distraction, Franklin didn’t have to contend with email let alone the other myriad distractions persistent internet connections catalog for us, but taking the time to order our days can do wonders for our productivity.

Covey’s second habit is “Think with the end in mind.” Allan’s planning system suggests starting at the end goal and working backwards when planning your project steps. Though these are more broadly minded than Franklin’s simplistic “contrive say’s business/take resolution”, his is the daily essence of long-term successful goals: work on your goals in a set way, every day.

It’s really about valuing your time and making efforts to control what you’re doing rather than reacting to everything that comes in.

Let each part of business have its time.




1. Mostly in chapter 9 which is entitled “Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection” in bold, capital letters. Frankling didn’t wilt in the face of large goals but waht’s the next action for attaining Moral Perfection?

2. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (affiliate link) is akin to GTD blended with Franklin’s own civic-minded awareness of society in his goal planning. Carnegie has “purer” productivity and leaderhsip books ranked in the top 20s on Amazon’s self-help lists too.