Embracing Forward Motion and Fretting Less: On Ben Franklin’s Wisdom and To-Do Lists

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” As someone who is both results-oriented and yet prone to fits of self-pity and self-indulgence that involve afternoons of Netflix binging (before my new anti-tv phase began, that is), this new mantra inspired by a man–who did more in one lifetime than most could do in ten–has brought about a paradox: my productivity (forward motion) and relaxation (fretting less) have simultaneously increased.

An example: yesterday had already been highly productive. I wrote beyond my daily dissertation goal, completed two blog posts, cleaned the upstairs of my house, baked, made dinner, and so on. At 8:00 my daughter was in bed, my husband had a friend over, and I was ready to settle in with a good book.

But two things occurred to me: 1) I needed to sign my daughter up for classes at our local zoo and 2) I wanted to write a handwritten note to a friend who had been especially helpful recently. Old Emily would have told herself, “Remember to do these things tomorrow” or maybe wrote a sticky note to that effect, but my Ben Franklin mantra encouraged me to sit down at the computer and complete these two tasks before being “done” for the day. And sure enough, it took less than 15 minutes to do and I didn’t have to remember to do more the next day or add to that day’s to-do list.

Certainly rest and restoration are important for productivity, but how often do we put off the little things and then find ourselves stressed at the long list of small items we have to take care of in addition to our regular work? What keeps us from just sitting down and taking care of these everyday tasks?

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