Inc.| Jeff Haden in Pocket, August 2019
We all have the same amount of time. That’s why people who are more productive — and successful — use their time more effectively.
And that’s why my Inc. colleague Chris Winfield is such a great resource for entrepreneurs.
Chris is an entrepreneur and writer, and if you like this post (and the next two in the series), he’s created a special bonus area with a worksheet and 40 powerful morning habits you can adopt.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle is credited with saying these 15 famous words, though they’re actually an interpretation of a passage from Aristotle’s writings by historian Will Durant. And for most of my life, I didn’t believe them.
I fought against cultivating good habits and routines because I didn’t want to feel like I had to live my life by other people’s rules. I wanted to be my own person and do my own thing. Besides, keeping a routine was hard work.
Know what I discovered?
Having no routine or structure is so much more draining mentally, physically, and emotionally than any routine could ever be!
By not doing the things I knew would make me better — habits like exercising, meditating, and creating gratitude lists — I deprived my body and mind of the energy that these types of positive activities create. I felt tired, inside and out. And to make matters worse, my dreams and goals were slipping away.
A few years ago, I decided to take a different path: to listen to this advice and actually work on creating excellence in my life by establishing a positive daily routine.
Now that I’ve created and stuck to my own daily practice (I call it my “Best Day Ever”), not only do I get more accomplished than I’ve ever thought possible but I also feel 100 times better while doing it!
Why You Need a Routine
First, you may need to be convinced about the benefits of creating a routine.
Establishing a positive daily routine is both a self-investment and a way to do your best for the rest of the world. It also provides additional benefits like giving you structure, building forward-moving habits, and creating momentum that will carry you on the days when you feel like you don’t have the strength to carry yourself.
Following a daily routine can help you establish priorities, limit procrastination, keep track of goals, and even make you healthier. It lowers your reliance on willpower and motivation because, as Tynan, the author of Superhuman by Habit, says, habits are “action[s] that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought.”
Today, I have more drive, motivation, and passion, which makes reaching my goals easier and more fulfilling. I have more physical and mental energy to make it through my days — even the really tough ones (which still show up). I feel happier and more satisfied with the quality and depth of my life.
I admit it, though; it isn’t always easy to create good habits. As Brian Tracy says, “Good habits are hard to form but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with.”
Here’s something really important to remember: What works for someone else might not work for you.
That’s why it’s important to pick the activities that resonate most with you, the ones that push you to become the best you that you are capable of being, and to keep doing those things.
Don’t be afraid to try new habits and see how they work for you. If they leave you feeling energized and inspired, keep doing them, and if they don’t, keep trying new ones until you find ones that do.
The key is to create regular and consistent daily patterns that will take you where you want to go in life, helping you maximize yourself on every level possible.
Now, let’s get into some of the things you can do in your daily routine to reach higher mental levels — like more brain power and clarity!
Optimize Your Mind
A successful daily routine helps you achieve laser-like focus from the moment you wake up in the morning to the time you close your eyes and drift off to dreamland at night. Here are some ways to get it.
1. Get positive: Start the day with a mantra.
According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking helps manage stress and even improves your health.
“Today is going to be the best day ever!”
I start every single day saying that simple sentence (out loud) as soon as I get out of bed. And yes, I even tell myself this on mornings that have followed nights that were too short or mornings when I wake up feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.
These nine words put me in the right mindset for the day ahead.
What makes a day good or bad isn’t the events that occur but rather your response to them. As Jim Rohn once said, “Either you run the day or the day runs you.”
I want to put my mind in a good state right away, because left unchecked it will try to tell me the things that are wrong. Through positive thinking, I can overcome that.
Ben Franklin used to ask himself this question every morning: “What good shall I do today?”
Pick a phrase or question that resonates with you. It could be as simple as smiling and saying “thank you” out loud, acknowledging that you have been gifted with another day.
2. Be proactive: Don’t check your email first!
When you wake up in the morning, do you immediately check your email or social-media accounts? If so, you’re starting your day off in a reactive instead of a proactive mode.
As Jocelyn K. Glei writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day, “The trouble with this approach is it means spending the best part of the day on other people’s priorities.”
For instance, if you receive an email asking for work-related documents, you might be compelled to provide them immediately, even though you may have had plans to work on marketing your own business. Or if you open up Facebook and see one of your friends in a crisis, that becomes your focus and potentially keeps you from concentrating on your own issues or concerns.
Start your days focused on you and you will be in a much better state of mind to help others and get more accomplished all day.
3. Mentally prepare: Visualize your success.
Some of the world’s greatest athletes use visualization to help prepare themselves mentally to excel in their sport. Aaron Rodgers, considered by many to be the best quarterback in the NFL, talked about the power of visualization in an interview with USA Today:
“In the sixth grade, a coach taught us about the importance of visualization. When I’m in a meeting, watching a film, or laying in bed before I go to sleep, I always visualize making those plays. A lot of those plays I had made in the game, I had thought about them. As I had laid on the couch, I had visualized them.”
Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, suggests that you practice visualization 10 minutes a day to “harness the power of your subconscious mind.”
Simply close your eyes and imagine yourself excelling and being the best you. Put yourself in situations where you shine, visualizing the best possible outcome. Include as much detail in your visualizations as possible, using all of your senses and making your “training” even more powerful.
For people who have trouble closing their eyes and “seeing anything,” use a pen and paper and write out how you want your day to unfold. Be as specific as possible, and be sure to keep it positive.
The purpose of all of this is to pass command from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind wants to believe what you tell it (good or bad), and it will do whatever it takes to turn those commands into reality.
4. Read a book, even if just one page at a time.
Reading books offers many science-based benefits. Reading can boost your intelligence, increase your brainpower (for up to five days, according to research conducted by Emory University), and even strengthen your ability to empathize with other people. Reading has also been found to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by more than double — all this while helping you feel more relaxed at the same time!
Joshua Becker, bestselling author of Simplify, has made it a goal to read a book a week, because reading makes him a better leader, increases his worldview and knowledge base, and reinforces his self-discipline.
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to find the time to read an entire book. I mean, who has hours and hours a day or week to just sit and read?
That’s why I commit to reading just one chapter each day of a book of my choice. I’m in the process of reading a couple different books right now, so I just pick up the one that speaks to me the most that day and I sit and read a chapter of it. If I want to read more, I do.
By breaking the big process (reading a whole book!) into something manageable (one chapter) I am able to read about 50 books each year.
5. Make yourself accountable: Find a partner or mentor.
I have a mentor and I call him every day. Even if all I do is leave him a message, this one simple task holds me accountable. It also forces me to keep myself (and my mind) moving in a positive direction.
If you don’t currently have a mentor, then think about how you could go about getting one. Or at least find someone you trust who can be your accountability partner, someone to hold you to your word. Eric “the Hip-Hop Preacher” Thomas believes that accountability partners are crucial for success,and that his accountability partners changed his life:
“The day you find someone just as passionate about your goal to hold you accountable will be the day you make your first permanent step towards success,” he says.
“Making a commitment to your accountability partner about your goal will make the milestone realistically attainable.”
Thomas recommends making a list of three people whom you trust and respect. Have a conversation with each of them and discuss exactly what it is that you want to accomplish. After the conversation, decide which of these individuals will serve best as an accountability partner for the specific milestone you are trying to reach.
One quick suggestion: Make sure it’s a win-win situation for them as well. In the words of author Ryan Holiday:
“Bring something to the table. Anything. Quid pro quo. Even if it’s just energy. Even if it’s just thanks. You cannot ask and ask and not expect to give anything in return. The bigger the payoff you can offer, the longer they’ll take you under their wing. Figure out what you can offer and actually give it. Here’s a freebie: Find articles and books that relate to their field and pass on a recommendation and then they won’t have to waste their time searching.”
6. Write: Prime yourself for creativity.
Spending time writing every day helps you become a better communicator, improves your ability to recall important information, and enhances your creativity. Write in a diary format and you also have the added benefit of greater self-understanding.
One of the first things I do every morning is write Morning Pages, a practice devised by Julia Cameron that clears my mind and helps to clarify what I want out of life. To do your own Morning Pages, simply sit down and write three pages. They can be about anything you want them to be. Just write each and every day.
I also write down 10 ideas, a concept I learned from James Altucher, author of Choose Yourself. The point of this exercise is to work your brain and get your creative juices flowing. They can be big ideas (how to cure cancer) or small ones (ways get your cat to quit scratching the furniture).
They say that everyone has at least one million-dollar idea in his or her lifetime. You may just find yours on this list!
7. Make a daily to-do list.
One great way to be fully prepared for the day ahead is to make a to-do list, just like Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank; Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams; and Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS.
I plan up to six tasks that I want to complete during the day on mine, and the reason this works is twofold.
First, it helps me plan my day in a way that allows me to get the most out of it, versus just performing random tasks and hoping that they move you forward. Second, creating a to-do list keeps me on task. I know exactly what I want to get done and when, which makes it more likely that I’ll do it.
Keep your daily to-do list small, so that it’s manageable and not overwhelming. A great “hack” to make sure you keep your lists simple is using a Post-It Note. The dimensions of a Post-It Note are perfect (typically 3 x 3) because the size constraint will force you to only write down the most important things that you have to do each day.
You can’t fit more than six items on a Post-It Note (unless you cheat and write really small — but you won’t do this, right?) and these should be your MITs (most important tasks).
Plus, when you’re able to cross items off this list, it inspires you to keep going and accomplish even more.
8. Take regular breaks throughout the day.
While all of these tips are meant to help you forge ahead, sometimes you just need to step back and give your mind a break.
Taking regular breaks keeps you from getting bored and losing focus,increasing your brain’s function at the same time. It also forces you to reevaluate what you’re working on, ensuring that you’re going in the right direction.
I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique to beinvaluable at helping me keep my energy levels high and “forcing” me to take regular breaks. This revolutionary time management system is deceptively simple to learn, but life-changing when applied correctly. Here’s a quick breakdown of how it works:
- Choose a task (just one task at a time)
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on your task until the timer rings, then put a checkmark on a tracker
- Take a five-minute break — you just completed your first Pomodoro!
- Repeat steps 1 to 4 three more times, followed by a 15-minute break.
By utilizing this technique, I am now able to get 40 hours of work done in just 16.7 hours, all the while keeping my energy levels more stable and eliminating burnout (for the most part).
Speaking of breaks, while you’re decompressing and giving your mind a chance to switch gears, why not close your eyes and catch some Z’s?
According to the National Sleep Foundation a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes can help to improve your mood, alertness, and even performance. Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, and Salvador Dali were all regular nappers.
9. Break your day into chunks.
Breaking your day into chunks helps you be the best you, as too much time spent doing one thing can cause you to lose focus, and interest. And if you’re working on something you don’t really want to do, it makes it easier because you only have to do it for a short while.
Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, is a master of this, as he sets his daily schedule in a way that doesn’t keep him on the same task for very long. Here’s what a “typical” day looked like for Tim a few years back:
- 10 a.m.: Breakfast
- 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Radio interviews and idea generation
- 12: Work out
- 12:30: Lunch
- 1:00 to 5: Writing (but not for the entire time)
- 5:30: Dinner
- 6:30 to 8.30: Jiu-jitsu training
- 9: Dinner
- 10: Ice bath and shower
- 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.: Relax
Some important takeaways from Tim:
- No two days are ever really the same.
- Spend as much time as possible doing what you want by maximizing output in minimal time — this is the goal each day.
- How you use time and trade it for experience is what really matters.
Now, look at your own day, figure out how you can break it into chunks, and determine what you need to do to spend your time doing what you want to do (as much as possible).
10. Theme your workdays (and week).
Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, managed both companies at the same time without getting overwhelmed. He did this by setting aside different tasks for different days of the week.