Benjamin Franklin

Project Managing Virtue by Will Ringland

Subtitle: I Took A Look At My Life And I Realized There's Something Left

I try remarkably hard to Get Stuff Done. Like so hard that I project manage my life. Like hard enough that I intermingle my Work goal planning and my Life goal planning so it's easier to see everything laid out in front of me.

And seriously, I spend 40-50 hours a week at the office. It's silly to plan my non-work life without considering what I have and want to do with my work life. Because I like my job and want to be really good at it.

Part and parcel with getting to Really Good, I mapped out the most important things I want (need?) to improve, the mapping of which happened in early Januay with my yearly review (I do those too). These are all things that, when I do well with them, my life is significantly better for it.

Shall we List! Yes, let's list.

Things I care about:

(In priority order) - My relationship(s) I never understood the "my wife is awful trope" found on so much entertainment. Why would you marry someone if you didn't enjoy spending timeouts them.. Like, why would you hate yourself that way? I married my best friend. She supports me, smooths my rough edges, and helps me a better person.

Why wouldn't I want to be around that? And I should be active in maintaining and improving it, even (especially?) if that is as simple as a kiss every morning or a regular date night.

  • My health You can probably imagine that this has become even more important of late. In fact, this got bumped to #2 priority after dad died. I take fairly good care of myself but haven't hit many of my health and fitness goals in the last few years. I've kept my weight down around 190 for the last two years. I have a much healthier relationship with carbohydrates and feel far less powerless to resist. I regularly put to go for a run when I feel crawly because I think I truly grok how exercise helps me now

But I've not been able to increase running mileage or reduce body fat percentages much at all in the last two years.

  • Creativity When my life is stable, I am compelled to make things. It's both an overflow of energy as well as a desire for Legacy, the latter of these likely a longer entry on its own.

Creativity usually manifests as words on the Internet, like this, or new Bunny Rope things. This year I've been trying to learn how to draw and it is going painfully slowly. Which is what happens when you neither work at it regularly nor set specific, actionable goals.

  • Wrestling with Franklin I may not be writing about it publicly every week but I'm still trying to be a better person. I set a focus virtue every day and catalog how I think it went most every night. I think I've just sort of the last few months insofar as I haven't felt like I've made any progress... Gotten any better at any of them.

  • And work Being good at my work be it day job or Bunny Rope is extremely important to me. It's income, life style, and how I leave my mark on the world. If I'm not trying to improve, what worth am I adding?

Supporting all of these things requires a lot of time, time that is already short enough in many real and metaphorical ways. And supporting them requires building a system for success, systems that support your engagement in your goals and reduce distraction. Any system worth the effort to maintain it will provide you means to accomplish both of these things. And it will do so with ease.

I've been trying to build all of my goal tracking and maintenance processes on my phone and tablet. I've been kinda dirty all in on iOS for a while but recent improvements in processing, input and applications has allowed me to drop the last vestiges of non iOS use which has allowed me to take advantage of iCloud sync, full screen apps, and controlled multi-app interfacing.

I spend every second of every day with my phone. I've started there in reducing distraction.

Look a Squirrel!

Smart phones are the best damn thing in the world man. So much capability. So much potential to build great things. So much opportunity to dash it all on the rocky shores of Idle Interneting.

I have removed or isolated as much access to distraction as possible on my phone. Here's what it looks like as of this morning.


I've dramatically reduced the distraction folder. Today, I only have Instagram, Neko Atsume, and Blockbox. Blackbox I can't finish until I travel further than Chicago and find a tall enough building to finish the last two puzzles. Neko Atsume requires nearly no effort and makes me stupidly happy to play so it gets to stay.

Also: kitties.

IG serves really one purpose - all IG photos flow into Day One 2.0 automatically. So every photo ends up in my journal where I expand on it and the day's events over time. It helps me remember.

Supporting Systems

So that's reducing distraction. What about actually improving in your goals? I've tried a few applications, Habitica being the most recent, to track daily To Dos and Goals. Ultimately they fractured my focus and, since I spend most of my time in OmniFocus and my calendar, I needed something I them that would be more in my face.

So I ditched Habitica and back to my favorite scripting application: Workflow. Workflow lets you string together steps between applications along with things like variable manipulation, date math, and if/then logic. So let me outline what each does and how they help me with my goals. With it I created Begin, Rest, and End


Every morning (yeah, every morning) I trigger that application. It asks a few simple questions.

First: is it Monday? If yes, it launches me through my weekly review process. Monday mornings, I open up OmniFocus and step through all of my active projects, my someday/maybe list, and my upcoming tasks. It's the standard GTD process - Dutch things that don't matter, update things that need it, schedule stuff you want to get done, think about the rest.

This informs the following four questions it then asks. - What health goals do you wish to work on this week? - What relationship goes do you wish to work on this week? - What creativity goals do you want to work on this week? - What work/Bunny Rope goals do you want to work on this week?

As I advance through each, those answers get stored as all day, recurring events for the next week on my calendar.

It looks like this:

That 5k has been killing me. This is the 3rd week I've tried to hit it. 

That 5k has been killing me. This is the 3rd week I've tried to hit it. 

This does a few things for me. It means I see this every time I look at my calendar on my phone or Google Calendar. It also appears in the forecast view in OmniFocus which I use most mornings.

If no, the workflow asks what virtue will be today's focus. Now, Franklin would rotate week to week on each virtue, not every day. I do too but, frankly.... I keep forgetting the week's virtue if I add it once on Monday. I found myself at my End of day journaling having not really thought about the virtue much at all and thus had little to frame my day on.

So, setting it every day reminds me to maybe actually be virtuous?


But won't you forget about your goals and virtue anyway?

NO. GOD....

Yes, probably. The Rest workflow is a simple "how's it going?" question. The flow grabs my goals and virtue, drops them into a Day One 2.0 entry for me to fill out. I don't generally fill it out during the day when I have a moment to myself - usually lunch, sometimes only in the bathroom (:/ that this is the only time I have open in a day is a whole 'nuther thing....).

When done it looks like this:

Minus the typos usually... 

Minus the typos usually... 

I fill it out quickly and am on my way. The intent is not to do it multiple times a day, whenever I'm at rest or even once every day, but just regularly. Things don't get better if you pay no attention. But too much attention is obsession. And you have to actually rest occasionally


End builds on the rest but includes more stuff. I fill out things like how the whole day went, what things I am grateful for as well as more specifics for the day's virtue.

The gratitude part, actually, is probably the best thing I've started doing. But that's such longer thing to dissect. Suffice that if I inspire you to try anything, try writing down a few things you're grateful for, especially people; really, even if it is just 1 thing, that gratitude can build up and help bolster bad days.

And this does what exactly?

Well, it certainly keeps me feeling guilty for doing nothing for my goals? No, only recently. I've been unenergetic since dad died mostly because that plus the estate plus big problems at work leave me drained.

To a point, it is reasonable. Losing a parent us stressful even without having to manage an estate and probate across state borders. But you gotta get your head together and get back to your life. That includes looking at how you Do Things and trying new approaches.

Novelty is helpful as is the introspection but you may hit on something that really helps your life be better. And that is certainly virtuous.

Three Months Down, My Whole Life To Go by Will Ringland

I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.

It's been a little over three months since I started this Wrestling with Franklin project with the above quote from Franklin's autobiography. I am not sure what I expected to happen or to be after working through his 13 virtues but I know I wasn't so foolish to believe that even working through them once was going to grant me some Great Insight into myself. On the contrary, I think I expected it to be the start of some longer revelation and I'd have the seed of something start to germinate, like the end of a long winter.

At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, here's what I said back in January:

"I am, however, not striving for moral perfection. I don’t know if I even fathom what that would look like given my beliefs and place in the world. But it is no matter: the process of watching myself, having a focus, should help reveal it."

I've made a few particular insights each week and I feel like I have a better sense of what the virtues mean to me after having studied them from Franklin's writing. For one so ambitious as Franklin, who says himself he's seeking perfection, he didn't really write that much about virtue. He was probably too busy inventing the post office, the public library, or a country, I suppose.

So I feel like I have a sense of what these virtues had to mean for Franklin given his time and place in society. And I see how the virtues would work or not work for me then and now. But I don't think I can quite articulate that today.

Which is entirely fine. Franklin's intention for his Moral Perfection project was an ever-spinning cycle of focus for each virtue. After 13 weeks, one simply starts anew with focus on Temperance again. He offered no process for evaluating progress or suggestions for righting wrong behavior. I don't even think he kept a record of his own weekly progress - he says himself that he erased each week's grid marks when he started again:

To avoid the trouble of renewing now and then my little book, which, by scraping out the marks on the paper of old faults to make room for new ones in a new course, became full of holes, I transferr'd my tables and precepts to the ivory leaves of a memorandum book, on which the lines were drawn with red ink, that made a durable stain, and on those lines I mark'd my faults with a black-lead pencil, which marks I could easily wipe out with a wet sponge.

From all of this, there seems to be no record or writing on how Franklin progressed, if he got better over time. Which is fine, I suppose, since his "better" is not necessarily my better. As I see it, virtues change over time. Things once valued may no longer be centuries or decades or even months later. Society fluctuates. What I value and what modern society values and, what both would deem "Virtuous" is going to be different necessarily.

So after spending 3 months trying to understand what this all meant to Franklin, I have to start figuring out what this means to me. Starting tis coming Sunday, it;s back to the top with Temperance but I shall endeavor to outline what the virtue meant to Franklin, briefly, and then outline what the virtue means to me today. The delta between these two is interesting because maybe we can see how society has changed since Franklin started his own exploration over 200 hundred years ago.

Let us begin chapter 2, eh?

How Not to Chastity by Will Ringland

If you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones.

The Letter, or maybe treatise, "Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress" is regarded as one of Franklin's more humorous writings. Ostensibly written to a friend, Cadwallader Colden, it details the benefits of taking an older woman as a mistress over a younger woman. Among the 8 reasons, this one is my favorite (1):

Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.

This is wish fulfillment on Franklin's part. By his own decree, Chastity is about sex only for health and procreation. A post-menopausal woman means sex without consequences. I find that kind of an interesting way around his own edicts towards betterment.

In a grander sense, creating for yourself standards and rules that don't jive with who you are seems a silly exercise. Partly because it becomes increasingly unlikely that you'll achieve your goals - flailing into the ether, consciously or unconsciously, against your own desires. Mostly because doing so is no way to increase one's happiness, let alone one's moral perfection (3).

It's possible, written at the age of 40, Franklin had abandoned his project and this was fatherly advice to a friend, something he certainly doled out… religiously to his friends. And in tis advice, in fact, intimating that sleeping with an older mistress "Because the Sin is less" than debauching a virgin for the way that ruined young girl's lives.

In that nugget, at least, some acknowledgement of the sexist nature of virginity as a commodity but the letter otherwise, while praising some traits of an older woman, undercuts most of said praise with what amounts to a collegiate boy tittering about an ill-reputed conquest. "…regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one" this positive comparison achieved after "covering all above [the oder woman]with a Basket."

I fear this sort of objectification and commoditization was normal and that Franklin acknowledging the good of older women would be considered the radical thinking. In that, there's is some benefit, even of you have to throw out the rest.

This is to say that Chastity or Chasteness stems from a deeply religious and oft blatantly sexist religious roots. A woman is expected to remain chaste and pure for her future husband where men have no such compunction. And any trysts result in the besmirching of the lady's honor and a light swat of the man who effectively ruined the girl's life. Sex is not so powerful nor should it be something considered so much more sacred than the life to which you attach virginity.

All of this is to say that denying ourselves - either Franklin pantomiming chasteness or society championing Puritanical denial of pretty much anything fun - is a quick way to unhappiness. If we believe that all human pursuits are intended to bring us some sort of happiness - either in tis life or another ever after in accordance with your beliefs - then acting so thoroughly against understanding ourselves can only result in broken promises.

  1. When we're talking about Chastity. Much of the letter is a little… sexist. Maybe good natured sexism, like respectful sexism (2)?

  2. This is not a thing. I'm not being serious. The letter is sexist.

  3. The latter being the stated goal for Franklin's project which was likely an indirect way of getting to the former.