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One Powerful Success Secret from Ben Franklin that Changed My Life

When I tell people how I manage my entire business on my own – from website management, to reading, writing, sending mailers, to organizing workshops and also booking a lot of travel tickets – a lot of them are in disbelief.

They disbelieve me even more when I tell them that I work for just 5-6 hours a day and take a lot of family holidays.

Well, I do not have any Masters degree in time management, but one thing that has really helped me manage my time well is a simple secret I’ve learned from people like Ben Franklin and Warren Buffett.

That simple secret is that of…

Daily Rituals
There are but 24 hours in a day! And when you have a seemingly overwhelming amount of work, it can be a quite a challenge to even know where to start.

But remember that history’s most legendary figures – from Ben Franklin to Warren Buffett – had just as little (or just as much) time as you have.

One of the biggest reasons I believe these men made it to the history books is because they never took giant steps to make it to the history books.

Instead, all they focused on was to do their daily rituals with complete integrity…and that seemingly made the difference.

Like, take a look at this ideal daily routine of Benjamin Franklin that he shared in his autobiography…


Every morning Franklin asked himself, “What good shall I do today?” Then, every night, he asked, “What good did I do today?”

Of course, Franklin’s schedule misses some things from modern life – like exercise, cooking, family and friends, trips to the grocery store, etc. But how else can you define simply how you would like to spend each of your days?

In a commencement address he gave at Stanford back in 2005, Steve Jobs revealed the motivational tactic he used to set the tone for the rest of his day…

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

That’s powerful stuff to define what you would like to do daily.

Now consider what Buffett does daily. When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

Although we humans are capable of creating amazing new innovations, most of our daily lives are shaped instead by daily routines or rituals. We get up, brush our teeth, dress, have that first cup of tea or coffee, make the commute to work – and on, day after day.

Many such activities simply allow us to do certain things on autopilot so that our brains are not overtaxed by concentrating on each brushstroke and countless tiny adjustments of the steering wheel.

Some daily routines — taking a daily walk, for instance — are healthy. Others — having dessert after every meal — are not. Worse, the more routine a behaviour becomes, the less we are aware of it. This results in a sinister undercutting of our intentions such as happens when, say, those frequent desserts become extra pounds.

In some ways, habits can even resemble addictions, which are then to tough to part away with. Like Buffett often says…

Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.

Habits play a very important role in the building of successful lives. Like the habit of reading daily proved in case of Buffett.

We are all creatures of habit. As the French gastronome (a lover of good food) Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell what you are.” But habits build over time. And the benefits of good habits compound over a period of time.

But for this compounding to take place, the idea of working on the habit daily is what is required.

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Now, while ten thousand hours look like a lot of time, if you can work on a habit – like reading books or learning value investing – diligently for just 2 hours daily, you’ll reach mastery in less than 14 years.

We Are What We Repeatedly Do
Apart from putting out his daily schedule, Franklin also laid down clearly 13 virtues as essential to good personhood…

Ben Franklin's 13 Vitues

He then set out to improve himself by devising a chart-based log for tracking his progress against these virtues. Each week, he would pick a virtue to cultivate, then put a black pencil mark in his calendar chart on any day he failed to uphold the virtue.


This visual feedback on his progress encouraged him, and allowed him to move to a different virtue the following week, hoping that each week would help him ingrain the habit of that specific virtue.

Neuroscience hadn’t developed much when Franklin was writing out his daily schedule and tracking his daily progress against the virtues. But as neuroscientists later found out, habits are a matter of daily, repeat performance. When we repeat a behaviour – good or bad – daily and over a period of time, our brain stores it as a “chunk” of action and then imprints it as a semi-permanent activity, or a habit.


Source: Scientific American

Such activities that our brain imprints in itself – that we also call as ‘habits’ – form around 45% of the actions we perform every day, with the rest 55% being actual decisions (as per research published by Duke University).

Napoleon Hill wrote this in his landmark book titled Think and Grow Rich

Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.

On the inverse, here is what the French writer Ernest Dimnet said…

The happiness of most people is not ruined by great catastrophes or fatal errors, but by the repetition of slowly destructive little things.

So, repetition works both in the creative and destructive process. Mahatma Gandhi was a product of creative daily habits, Hitler of destructive.

Even when it comes to learning the art of investing, there’s not one book or course that can teach you to become a sensible investor, and in a few weeks or months.

Reading books and making notes is just a part of the habit building process, and I’m sure Gladwell’s ten thousand hours framework also applies here. On the contrary, people who regularly spend a lot of time watching business television, reading newspapers, discussing on stock forums, and looking at online stock portfolios, are just building the wrong habits…again through daily repetition.

So, if you want to diligently learn how to become sensible in your investment decision making – especially learning how to pick stocks on your own – you better start learning how to manage your behaviour and analyze businesses effectively.

And to do that, reading a few pages of annual reports daily and few pages of the best books on investing and human behaviour daily can go a long way.

Repetition – practicing daily rituals, daily – is the price you would have to pay to be great at something…and investing follows the same process.

This is one of the several big lessons I’ve learned from Ben Franklin.

How (I Think) Buffett Does It
Now, while even Buffett is granted a 24-hour day, based on my reading of his life and experience, I think here’s how he takes out time to practice his daily rituals of reading 500 pages and other important things that matter to him…

  • Says ‘no’ a lot of things – As per his letters and other communication, Buffett avoids businesses he doesn’t understand and as per him, these are much more in number than ones he understand.
  • Remains anti-social – Buffett reportedly doesn’t use Facebook, Twitter, and probably even emails. He’s largely disconnected from the online world, and thus must give him ample amount of time to use productively.
  • Loves inactivity – Buffett doesn’t go out there every day to find the next biggest 10 or 100-baggers. He doesn’t have to. Sometimes he can find but often times he don’t. There are usually 3-4 purchases in a year. It’s a laid back approach to investing. Remember the Blaise Pascal principle of sitting quietly in a room.
  • Spends time only with people he likes – As per his biographers, Buffett’s inner circle is quite small. He generally avoids people he doesn’t like, which makes his life easier and his working relationships better. If you are a on a job, this is almost impossible to do. But still try to do this and I’m sure you’ll create a lot of time to do things that really matter.
  • Does what he loves – You often find time for things you love doing. This is also true of learning how to invest. Reading books and annual reports may look boring to people who look at these as outsiders, but there’s an unbelievable amount of romance in these black and white pages if you love to go through them daily.

I’m not sure if Buffett has read any of those productivity books out there. But it seems that his practice of simplicity, avoidance of things that take a toll on his time and energy, and focusing on practicing the most important things daily has been the root causes behind his immense success.

If all this worked for him, why can’t it work for us? Don’t you think?

Seize the Day!
Remember this – What you do daily, day after day, has great powers in altering the course of your life ahead – both positively and negatively. I can personally vouch for this.

So, choose what you do daily very carefully…and then do it daily.

And finally remember what Steve Jobs said in his famous speech at Stanford…

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

Your – and my – time is really very limited. How we decide to spend our days will ultimately decide how we would end up spending the rest of our lives.

P.S. How I Spend My Days
Though you may not be interested, but let me still share what I do on a normal day that has helped me immensely over the past few years (ever since I quit my job and took control over my time).

Taking inspiration from Ben Franklin, I recently formalized my daily routine thus…


Now, while this schedule looks ideal in theory, I knew while setting it up that day-to-day responsibilities and unpredictability would make it impossible for me to follow it strictly.

So, instead of any unrealistic expectation, I use this schedule as a guideline. And I would say that I have been able to meet this schedule 70% of the times since I set it up. But one aspect where I have tried to be extremely disciplined is to ask myself, “What good will I do today?” when I woke up, and end each evening by contemplating the good I’d done.

Another instance where I have taken help from neuroscience to set up a good habit is that of exercising every day (well, almost). One book that has helped me tremendously in this pursuit is Robert Maurer’s One Small Step Can Change Your Life – The Kaizen Way.

It’s basic premise of building a habit was to start small and then move ahead in small steps. So, I started with walking/running 1 km per day sometime in 2013, then increased it to 2 km/day, then 3 km, and so on.

Just last week, I completed a 21-day challenge to myself to ride bicycle 21 km per day (more on that in a later post).

Anyways, sticking to my daily rituals – written or not – has helped me channelize my energy well into my life and my business of writing and investing over these past few years. I’m sure it will benefit you too.

After all, no matter what’s happening in your life, coping and succeeding are both a matter of routine.



Further Reading – If you wish to learn how the world’s most creative minds from history used to spend their days, you must read this brilliant book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, written by Mason Currey. It contains accounts of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen, Beethoven, Karl Marx, Picasso, and many more.

Note: This post was originally published in January 2015, but I have updated it on request by adding a few more references and my personal experience.

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About the Author

Vishal Khandelwal is the founder of Safal Niveshak. He works with small investors to help them become smart and independent in their stock market investing decisions. He is a SEBI registered Research Analyst. Connect with Vishal on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Manoj Dureja says:

    Thanks for this beautiful article Vishal.

    Regards,
    Manoj

  2. You remember Vishal, I requested you to write this article (how do you spend your day and manage tasks) years back. Now it is here! Feeling nice. Thank you for writing this. It helped me.

  3. awesome article…. since very long i was thinking how normal people !!!! (upcoming legends) spend their life …. because legends are legends and to reciprocate their life requires a lot of effort and motivation.
    some lines worth noting ang i personally shall try to do from today is
    to go for a 30-45 minute walk/run in the evening and
    to practice the daily rituals of reading 2 hrs daily about important things that
    matter to me…..(modified for my scenario)

    Thanks again sir
    and please continue this for other legends also like Ratan Tata, Mukesh ambani , Adanis as well as Nimesh shah , Dhirendra Kumar …….

  4. Vishal, This article is very interestingly presented. Its inspired me and I will also definitely look forward to form good habits which would add value in long term.

  5. Rakesh Gupta says:

    Thanks Vishal for writing this article

    I found it of great value and have sent it to my relatives and friends

    Much to be learnt from it on time management

    Its so easy to waste time and keep thinking we are busy

  6. I envy your routine so much Vishal 😉 😉 😉

  7. Vishal, I disagree a little bit with your writing that: “… Remains anti-social – Buffett doesn’t use Facebook, Twitter, and probably even emails. He’s largely disconnected from the online world, and thus must give him ample amount of time to use productively….”

    Actually, Warren Buffet is quite social when it comes to bridge game. That’s also the main reason why after such a long time he considered internet as unnecessary luxury, he finally gave in and installed internet at his house, so that he can play bridge online whenever he wants to. The last time I check, Buffet -with his nickname T-Bone-, actually qualifies as a world-class level bridge player, both online and offline. 😀

  8. Rajaram S says:

    A very profound truth, thanks! We are often given “success mantras” in the media. Experience has taught me that they do not work – what works is discipline (oh, why do we always have to make costly mistakes to learn simple lessons of life). Repeating a calm routine that one enjoys, it works! One should not even copy anyone else, for that is destined to fail. One can learn from others (like this article from you), and then apply the essential principle to one’s own needs and temperament, such that one enjoys it and can commit to it. And then keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s crazy, but every form of energy seems to compound. Whether it is money, or habits, or health, or love….

    • “…(oh, why do we always have to make costly mistakes to learn simple lessons of life)….”

      You know Rajaram, even Buffet himself -on his speech ‘The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville’- had noticed that “…there seems to be a perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult… it’s likely to continue this way….”

      Some people can only learn the hard way. Sad but true.

  9. Hi Vishal,

    I have been your blog reader since the days you use to provide stock tip, I believe you don’t do that now or I may have missed that section.

    I admire your guts to leave job and start doing the thing that you like, I often think of cutting down on my business and do whatever I can within specified time-limit but I always fail and also because of the greed I guess!

    However few things I have taken from you, like skipping weekends and doing things like lunch/dinner/shopping and movies on weekdays to save money and to avoid crowd..working good till now. For my family Thursday is now weekend 🙂 and I leave for office a bit early on thursdays to wind up things before 6!

    Vishal, one thing I always wanted to ask you but was lazy to post, I guess now here I can ask! – Money-wise what would be the measurement as to how much one family with 2 kids should have in saving before relaxing and not going after money every day ?

    Thanks

  10. RAKESH RATHOD says:

    I am a victim of my habits.I have realised this time and again but done very little .I am sure this piece of yours would be a trigger to change many things.I would be glad to keep u updated on those as time passes
    Thanks Vishal for sharing so many things

  11. Vishal

    Although I am a long term investor I find I still spend too much time in watching online the stock market from 9 am to 3.30 pm and reviewing my portfolio, for buy or sell opportunities.
    Also about 3 hours a day does get spent on listening to business and daily news / reading newspapers

    I end up with little time to sit quietly and read investment books

    Please share or advise how you avoid this

    Thanks

  12. Hi Vishal,

    Just a few observations/reactions to what you wrote yesterday:

    1. The point regarding reading business newspapers and watch television. Do you not think that having information is good, but the ability to filter than information matters more? We are often told to have an open mind during investing and there could be an idea anywhere, be it newspapers, business channels and quite possibly by being social (which Buffet is not).

    2. Where can one draw the line between being connected/disconnected from the internet? Most new companies are powered by the internet or have a significant role to play with it. The approach could work for a Warren Buffet or a Charlie Munger, but given my age (25) I am curious to understand these companies and assess their potential impact for the next 50 years!

    3. I am slowly understanding the best thing to do sometimes if to turn the TV off and not to look at the market on a daily basis, but when I meet fellow investors and fund managers I find a gap in my own understanding and latest information of a stock that I hold in my portfolio vis a vis the others.

    Thanks for the post, looking forward to more!

    Aditya

  13. Great sir.

    I think waking up early is most important thing to be a successful person and you are doing that well. It sets a pace for a day. I have recently changed my schedule and finding a difference. Also realizing by going through your blog that finance is much more than reading balance sheets…

  14. Excellent article!! Thank you so much for taking the effort to make it.

    My immediate next thing to do is to search for all the other articles you wrote and read them !!

  15. JASMIN AKBARI says:

    Thanks for such a thought provoking write ups. It is really useful stuff. Just started the journey on same line and it is going to help me to improvise a lot.

  16. Hastin parekh says:

    Great

  17. Pradeep Gowda says:

    Very Informative. There is one book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. This is also good and the Kindle Book is Free.

  18. Very nice post. Really appreciate the time you spend on the details (e.g. the picture of Franklin’s schedule and his log).
    Thanks!

  19. Dr Soundararajan PP says:

    Ben’s schedule
    Vishal’s routine
    Powerful ideas
    Passing it on to my children

  20. Thanks Vishal for sharing your version of Franklin’s routine 🙂 I have seen them (his and Buffet’s) many times before but passed on them thinking they are for them :-)..your version encourages me.

    Let me now get off my ass and finally do something about it. I have been following “Deliberate Practice” in many areas lately..let me put this as well in my routine/awareness..ie What good shall I do this day? I guess occasional good aint enough..gotta do it “everyday”.

  21. ankit maniyar says:

    excellent article… thank you so much sir..!!

  22. Abhijeet says:

    I can observe that from 10-2 you have time blocked your schedule. Very recently I read “The One Thing” in which great emphasis has been put on this concept. Just curious, is it by chance or you have deliberately put it that way after reading it.

  23. Reginald Amicy says:

    Dominic Barton of McKinsey & Company advises to get to know Indian folks better and more. I’m seeing the real value of this suggestion more often now.

    A true PhD Dissertation on Investing and Time Management in condensed format! I love it. Thanks.

  24. Thanks Vishal……..I have requested it recently to you and Anshul…Thanks for the post.

  25. Shivaswamy says:

    Nice post, Vishal. Stumbled upon your site today. Looks like a useful resource for me. Impressed with your attitude of keeping it simple and straight forward.

    When we are talking about HABIT, I just wanted to mention the peculiarity of this word. Remove ‘H’ from Habit, “a bit” is left over. Remove ‘A’, you still have a “BIT”. even when you remove “B”, “IT” remains. Thanks for highlighting the importance of habit.

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