I was staring at my laptop screen and starting to panic.
My Outlook window prominently displayed “141 Unread Messages” in bold font. Then, a meeting reminder popped up. Two meetings were starting in 15 minutes, and I was a critical attendee for both meetings.
“Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays…” (watch the clip here)
That happened to me last week and it wasn’t the first time. I have a suspicion you have your own personal version of that Monday.
Even though I am one of the lucky ones that work from home, I can still become discouraged and overwhelmed when I sit down to start my day.
Although we can’t control many aspects of our jobs, we can control how we react. We can deal with emails that never stop, shifting demands, and unrealistic expectations in a positive way or a negative way.
Before I decided to take control, this was my typical morning routine:
- Wake up at about 6 AM
- Immediately grab my phone to check email
- Have a protein shake
- Walk the dog for about an hour
- Check email & look at Facebook during the walk
- Maybe a short workout before I start the work day
- Start my work day
On most days, I was happy with that routine. I have a healthy breakfast and usually get a bit of exercise.
However, checking my email so early started to cause problems. Here is a common scenario:
I check my email before work and see a huge issue that occupies all my mental energy. I start complaining to anyone who will listen.
I spiral out of control into a negative mindset, and start reacting. **I’m not proactively doing anything in that scenario.**
My goal was to change my morning routine to help more effectively control my mindset.
I suspected the root of my issue was that I was not accomplishing my goals outside of my 9-5 job (working out, cooking, writing, etc). I had a really hard time recovering after a poor start to the day, and felt like I was immediately behind.
If this sounds familiar, here is what you can do:
- Wake up earlier than normal, about 90 minutes to 2 hours earlier
- Stick to a routine each morning
- Set a goal to complete 1 – 2 tasks, **preferably just 1**.
Crazy simple, right. Here are a couple rules to go along with it:
- No email until 9 AM
- No Facebook until 9 AM
- Keep the routine simple and do it in the same order
If you need to check your email to complete your tasks, that’s okay. Just stick to the essential emails and don’t go into a reactive mode.
**This is a proactive approach to controlling your day on your own terms.**
A quick note:
I was inspired by the Tim Ferriss Podcast. He interviews people from all industries that are at the top of their game.
The vast majority of these industry leaders have a solid morning routine.
Tim frequently references “Daily Rituals,” the book by Mason Currey. I am currently reading the book now.
Wake up at 4 AM.
That’s really early, but I am a morning person in this stage of my life. I also get some satisfaction from knowing how much I’ve accomplished before my peers and coworkers are even out of bed.
Define My Routine
- Heat the water for coffee.
- Drink a big glass of cold water, about 20 ounces, almost 600mL.
- Make bulletproof coffee. I am a big fan of coffee and have been really enjoying the bulletproof concept. It sounds crazy but, trust me you should try it.
- Feed Brodie, my dog
- Meditate for 10 – 20 minutes. I’m just getting started with meditation so I keep it simple by focusing on my breathing. I used to wake up early but not on purpose – it was because my mind was racing and I couldn’t turn it off. This period of meditation calms me and prepares me to focus.
- Keep the routine simple and do it in the same order
The routine is key for me. I don’t have to think about what I need to do. I’m lining up several very small “wins” in a row. I know what’s coming up next and I know the outcome.
Start (and hopefully finish) my 1 or 2 task(s)
My general goal is to write 1000 words every morning. Some days I may only write 500 words and instead spend some time editing. Your task could be anything – just be sure you do it.
You may be wondering, “How do you pick the task?” I recently finished reading “The One Thing”, by Gary Keller.
He frames this in the Focusing Question:
What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
The question breaks down into 3 parts:
1. You have to pick one thing. That’s it.
2. The thing needs to be for a specific purpose.
3. Completing the thing makes other things easier or unnecessary.
I’m a week into my new routine, and after just one day I could feel the difference and see the results. This is a game changing shift in mindset.
I am getting so much more done each day.
And, I’m getting it done before I check my email or even sit down to work my 9-5 job. I feel great about the accomplishment after I finish the one task. It makes my work day far less frustrating and I am complaining less.
Give it a shot. You’ll be shocked at the difference it makes in your day. So, don’t sleep in…get up early and get things done.
<Whining voice> But Doug, I’m not a morning person.
Okay. No problem.
Flip the concept over and work on the 1 task in your prime productivity window. However, you must ensure that you can block off distractions, schedule the time, and focus solely on your task.
The reason I like the mornings is that my ability to focus is much higher, earlier in the day and there are less distractions.
Don’t squander your best hours of focus on watching cat gifs or reading the news.
Use it to actually get some shit done.
UPDATE for September 2016
I don’t wake up at 4 AM anymore, at least not on a regular basis. I have a few reasons why:
- I don’t have a full-time, corporate job anymore. I used to when I started waking up at 4 AM, but I don’t now and I have a LOT more control over my time. Yay!
- I realized that sleep is more important than I thought. I re-read a book last summer, called Sleep Thieves. It’s a great read and very interesting if you’re interested in a thorough survey on the topic of sleep. It references studies, journals, and experiments, but the writing isn’t too dense. Anyway, I realized that I wasn’t sleeping as much as I should. While I can get by on 5-6 hours of sleep per night, I know my productivity is actually lower. When I started sleeping more, I could tell my brain was sharper – I felt smarter.
- Rest is essential for being productive. Spending more time sleeping and less time working makes me more productive. I never felt like all-nighters worked well for me, and I guess they don’t.
- I feel better and healthier when I sleep more. This one is obvious and a no-brainer. If you have a cold, flu, or some sickness, your doctor will tell you to “Get MORE Rest!” not less rest.
Okay, that said I still occasionally wake up really early, like 4 AM.
After the points above – WHY?
Every now and then, I have something that I want to work on before anything else. For example, I wrote a whole productivity Masterclass for my Five Figure Niche Site students. I knew I needed some super-quiet, uninterrupted time and the morning is the best time for me to get to it. My brain is the freshest it’ll be and the caffeine is at it’s peak.
I went to bed early the night before and woke up at 4 AM. I got a massive amount done and finished the whole masterclass in 4 days.
The point is I still love the early mornings, but being well rested is a higher priority for me on most days. When I really need to get something done, I’ll schedule it for the early morning.
Do you have a morning routine? What do you do? Let me know in the comments below.
If you don’t have one, try one – and start this week. Let me know how it works out.