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See what you can do with ‘wasted’ time

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Nothing drove Ben Franklin crazier than wasting time. From when he was a kid, he’d work every hour of daylight and then burn up candles reading most of the night.

Take one of his many proverbs: Waste not life; in the grave will be sleeping enough, which today has morphed into: I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Franklin took that concept—not wasting time—to enlarge his own wealth by publishing, The Way to Wealth.

Here’s how it happened:

On April 4, 1757, Franklin left Philadelphia for New York by carriage and arrived only four days later to catch a ship to London. Then a series of delays stalled him for more than two months.

Franklin said he could never remember having wasted so much time—he wrote a new will and more letters than most people put out in a lifetime—while his patience wore thin. He finally boarded ship June 5, only to have it lie in anchor for two more weeks.

Stewing in his cabin, Franklin excerpted the best material from 25 years of his popular Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Franklin finished his greatest hits collection on July 7 while at sea and shipped it back home when he arrived in England. Published first in 1758 as a preface to Poor Richard Improved, the book soon was reprinted as The Way to Wealth and ran to 145 editions even before 1800: a very productive use of wasted time.

—Adapted from “The Creed,” Jill Lepore, The New Yorker.

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