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Give Me 45 Minutes in the Morning and I’ll Give You a More Productive Day

Give Me 45 Minutes in the Morning and I’ll Give You a More Productive Day

Let me guess: you don’t have time to get a decent cup of coffee in the morning, so how the hell are you going to find 45 minutes to (presumably) waste on being productive?

It’s okay; I know the pain. I sometimes have trouble getting my wheels rolling in the morning too. But, as it turns out, it’s nothing we can’t fix with a good morning routine.

Here’s how we’re going to do this. First, let’s divide our morning into two segments:

  • First 45 minutes: things we’ll be doing at home, prior to getting to work,
  • Then, we’ll start our workday with some easy-win tasks and overall good starting tasks that will keep our productivity at high levels throughout the day.

1. Start your day early in the morning.

For the life of me, I can’t remember who said it, but there was an excellent quote about how you should do your work early in the morning because fear is still asleep at 5 a.m.

This is an extreme take on the matter, I agree, but what I am trying to say is that you should just try getting your day started a bit earlier every day. The sooner you get up, the more you can do before your fear wakes up and starts putting you down with those “I can’t do this” thoughts.

Note that this is not about depriving yourself of sleep. What you have to do is go to sleep earlier the previous day, so you can still get 7-9 hours of rest.

2. Exercise after breakfast (15 min.)

There’s an extremely interesting paper on the benefits of exercise at Bryn Mawr College’s website. It states that exercising is one of the few activities that generates new neurons. On top of that, it also alleviates both physical and mental pain.

To put this in plain English: exercising makes you a happier human being.

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You really don’t need a lot of it on a daily basis. A mere 15 minutes after breakfast will do the job. Check these simple workouts that are easy to fit into your busy day..

3. Meditation for busy people (10 min.)

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day–unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Click to Tweet

While I’m not going to get as brutal on you as the Zen proverb suggests, I do encourage you to spend 10 minutes every morning meditating. Do this right after exercising as a cool down.

Meditation has huge benefits on both our bodies and minds. I was skeptical at first, but it took me about two weeks to notice some positive benefits.

To give you more fact-based reasons, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School conducted a study where the participants were asked to practice some relaxation methods on a regular basis. The effects he found were:

“After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells…all began to switch on…The more people practiced relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure.”

If you’ve never meditated, here’s a quick start guide:

  1. Fire up background music that doesn’t draw much attention.
  2. Sit quietly, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
  3. Try thinking about nothing other than breathing in and out.

That’s all. It sounds easy, but during your first 5-10 attempts you may find it difficult. Your mind will race and keep feeding you hundreds of different thoughts. That’s okay though. Over time, you will get better at this.

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4. Write a journal entry (10 min.)

Having a personal journal has been one of the biggest productivity tricks for me. It’s so simple, yet so effective.

Grab a notepad– either an actual piece of paper or open a piece of software on your laptop–and write whatever thoughts are on your mind at that moment.

Anything goes: your reflections on the previous day, your plans for dinner, your thoughts on meeting an old friend the previous weekend. There’s no bad direction here.

The idea is that writing a journal frees your mind from the things you’re thinking in the moment. The minute you get it out of your head and into a note, you no longer have to use your mind power remembering that stuff.

As a result, this means that you can focus on the new day and the tasks you’ll have to take care of in just a short while.

Once you’re done with all of the above, use the last 10 minutes to interact with your loved ones or do something else that gives you a positive vibe. Then, you can get to work.

5. Start your workday by planning.

Some people prefer to plan in the evening. I don’t, because in the evening I tend to get overly optimistic about all the things I’m going to do the next day.

When the morning comes, however, the feeling is different. I already know that what I’m planning I’ll have to start executing right away, so I’m careful only to place the essential tasks on my list.

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That’s what works for me personally. I encourage you to test both approaches and see which one works best for you–planning in the morning or planning in the evening.

6. Go for the easy wins.

Try building your to-do list in a way that it has two types of tasks:

  • Crucial: the thing(s) that need(s) to be done no matter what during that day,
  • Easy wins: the things that can be done quickly, so you can feel that you’re being productive, which will eventually get your wheels going faster and faster.

Start your day by focusing on one or two tasks from the easy win department. Be careful though. These are not filler tasks! Your easy wins should still be things that are important and need to be done. They just happen to be relatively easy to take care of.

For example, social media is not a good easy win task. It can consume two hours of your time easily. “It’s a trap” (to quote Admiral Ackbar) that will drag you into your Twitter feed and keep you there for a good long while.

A better idea is to do things based on templates or one activity that then gets multiplied for maximum results. If you’re a freelancer or a solo-preneur then there surely are loads of tasks that fit the description for you.

Reaching out to new clients and sending proposals is a prime example. You do want to treat each client individually, obviously, but at the same time, you can use a template for the core of your communication. This is just to make sure that you don’t miss any important pieces of the puzzle and that you say everything that needs to be said.

Check these proposal templates for freelancers and consultants by the guys at Bidsketch. You can take one of them, adjust it to your needs (one-time task), and then send it to, say, four clients in a matter of minutes.

Quick win? Check.

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If your solo business uses some form of content marketing, then you can promote your content with BuzzStream. You can use it to find relevant blogs and websites and send your outreach messages on a large scale.

Quick win? Check again.

Feel free to do some brainstorming on this and find the tasks that are both important to you and fit the quick win definition. Then you can alternate between them in the morning.

7. Final step: Go right into the crucial.

We’ve been quietly building up our whole morning just to be able to tackle the crucial task for the day with high energy and positive morale.

Once you have your morning ritual and early wins taken care of (which basically means that you’ve had a good start of the day), you can confidently move on to your main task for the day, whatever it might be.

Believe me, trying to get an important task done when you have the energy to finish it, versus trying to do so when you’re deprived of it makes all the difference.

What’s your take on this sort of morning ritual? Are you willing to give it a go?

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Karol Krol

Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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