Time is easily our most valuable resource.
Everyone is allotted the same 24 hours as everyone else. Those people who are successful have somehow found a way to create even more hours during their day. They have transcended time, space and the laws of physics to enable themselves to engineer and fabricate extra minutes, seemingly at will.
How do we recognize these super men and women of the clock? Usually it is pretty easy. Think of the most successful person you know and you will begin to get my drift.
It just seems that for them somehow everything falls into place. They have it all figured out. With, what appears to be just an unfair amount of serendipity, they are able to make the day bend to their will.
They make the hours obey them as opposed to the other way around.
Because of all this, they seem to be the only ones that, not only accomplish, but nail all of their goals.
For us mere mortals who desire even a small taste of that success, how do we begin to craft out these extra seconds during the day in order to get more done?
The easy answer is time management.
But I’m sure that won’t make you listen to the rest of what I have to say, so I will give you the long form version.
Keep in mind this is my spin on taking advantage of every waking second that the day has to offer. I have done a lot of reading and research on the many ‘time travelers’ and ‘productivity super humans’ to come up with my own ‘mortal’ version of the elusive time management.
First I want to start by saying that, for me, routine is key. I base just about everything around some form of a routine.
Looking at many of the successful humans of the past, they were entrenched with rigorous, and sometimes very quirky and bizarre, routines. However, it obviously worked for them.
To give a few examples:
One of the founding fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin, had a very strict routine that he wrote out in a journal. He kept a visible template of the hours of the day labeled with specific activities occupying each hour.
Easily ascertained from this picture is his famous cliché, “early to bed, early to rise…”
However, his bedtime was not the sole reason for his success. Something that I really like from Mr. Franklin, was the emphasis on the questions he consistently asked himself throughout the day.
Starting every day with “what good shall I do this day?” and ending with “what good have I done today?” essentially allows him to hold himself accountable to his daily tasks and goals, as well as sets the framework as to how the rest of the day is structured.
Fast forward to modern day and a man by the name of Warren Buffett. His method is a bit different than that of Franklin.
A man made through investments, he reportedly spends 80% of his day reading.
When he is not doing that he is deep in thought on assessing the worth of different companies.
Author and lawyer, John Grisham, would stick to a very simple plan. Before his day job at the law firm he would sit down and write one page per day.
The time for that was irrelevant. No matter if it took 30 minutes or even 2 hours, he would write, at minimum, a single page per day before he began his day’s work in the office.
My point for these examples is to illustrate the power of routine. What that routine is can vary from a fully planned and scheduled day, like that of Ben Franklin, or it can be as simple as one page per day, laid out by Grisham.
I am also willing to bet that any individually successful person has some form of routine, or some singular habit employed each day that allows them to put their goal into focus.
And that is exactly my point.
The daily routines/habits that you create should serve as an outline to your ultimate goals.
By establishing a measureable goal, you are then able to create a structured plan around it that essentially becomes your daily routine.
It does not have to be extravagant or detailed. Really I would say that it depends upon the kind of person you are as there is not one, specific plan that works for everyone, which should be evident by the above examples.
Personally I believe that a routine should move you, daily, in the direction of your goals. This should hold true even on days that you feel did not go so well, because if you stick to your plan as best as you can on days such as these, you will still make forward progress toward your ultimate goal.
Life tends to be extremely chaotic, if you let it. This is manifested through everyone’s favorite miscreant, Murphy.
Murphy’s law states that: Anything that can go wrong, undoubtedly, will.
What happens when you arrive home and your dog has decided that you no longer need those nice, leather couch cushions on your sofa? Instead, they look much better inside, out and spread all around your living room.
How about when you decided to eat well for the next 30 days, and not 5 minutes after you write down your goals in your notepad, your best friend invites you out for margaritas and Mexican food at your favorite restaurant?
Or, God forbid, you receive news that a relative has passed? How will your day change?
Life has a mysterious way of happening at the times you least desire it to. It will kick you in the teeth while you are on the ground if you let it.
Therefore, your best course of action is to have a routine in place that allows you buffer it as much as possible, so that when Murphy decides to ring your doorbell, you have a plan.
Here is my personal take on how to establish a daily routine:
- Follow the 2% rule. If you can increase your personal productivity by changing just 2% of your day, what would that initial 2% be?
For me this is starting by waking up just 15 minutes earlier than usual. Then you allow it to build upon itself.
Each consecutive day I added just a few more minutes until I hit my goal of waking up 1 hour before I needed, in order to start getting ready for work.
This window of time I use to accomplish my most important task of the day. Again, it is not a huge change, but it allowed me to feel as though my day was a success, really before it even begins.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
I am sure it is just me, but I absolutely suck at multitasking. My brain runs way to much about too many different things as it is, so adding multiple things to do at once really overloads my ability to effectively concentrate on the main task at hand.
I have found that if I plan my day well enough I don’t have to run around like a distracted 3 – year old in a candy shop. Also, and I think most importantly, my focus is increased ten fold when I just concentrate on a single task.
- Complete your 1 or 2 most important tasks before you begin your day
Our world today is filled with so many distractions. People crave our attention, be they family, friends, co-workers, customers, or your obnoxious next-door neighbor.
Your best chance at winning your day is when all these other “productivity suckers” are still snoozing. I have learned for myself that I am 3 times more productive in this time than I am at any other part of the day. Here I can concentrate without having to worry about a phone call from a client or some other unforeseen obstacle during the day.
All it takes is getting up a few minutes earlier during the day. Even waking up 10 minutes before your alarm usually goes off will give you an extra hour and 10 minutes per week of productivity.
Personally, I soak it up and usually wake up an hour or two before I need to start getting ready for work.
- Plan your following day before you return home
Home should be the place where you relax and spend time with those that matter, not the place where you arrive just to have enough time to eat, shower and go to bed, only to repeat the cycle of misery the next day.
If, for some reason, you do not have a family to come home to, but instead you are living up the single life, then at least allow your home to be the place you enjoy coming back to after a day of work. Give yourself time to relax and not think about your job. Spend some time on a hobby you enjoy; watch a good movie, play with your dog.
Do this by having a ritual of preparing for the next day while still at work. Give yourself 5 minutes where you write the next day’s itinerary and create a to-do list of your top two most important activities.
Hint: do your top two priorities first. These should be tasks that, when you look back at your day, you can rest assured that you did something that propelled you closer to your goals. Chances are, these are also the things that you look at and feel the most uncomfortable about.
Make sure that these tasks are done before 11 am. This allows for unforeseen adjustments for the remaining chaos of the day and ensures you allot enough time for you to accomplish them, if, for some reason, they take longer than you originally anticipate (cue Murphy).
To be clear I still like to finish my most important tasks before the world even considers waking up, however it is understood that most people do not necessarily enjoy rising with the chickens.
I like to plan out as many details and appointments as I can. This even includes lunch with friends, my workout time, when I eat lunch, and sometimes, if it gets too crazy, scheduled bathroom breaks. Of course, this depends on how many cups of coffee have been consumed that day (just kidding…kind of).
- Find time to be thankful
Personally I have found this one to be one of, if not the most, important things that I have recently incorporated into my daily routine. In fact I have a gratitude journal that I write in at the end of every day.
This tool alone really allows things to be put into perspective. All too often, we get caught up in the craziness of the day and forget about the things that really matter. Of course I am speaking for myself and generalizing for everyone else, however, I can’t imagine that I am the only one that this happens to.
By just filling out a page in this journal at the end of every day, I am brought back to reality and realize what matters most. It is really a good stress reliever. It lowers my blood pressure. But most importantly it replaces my fear and anxiety from the day with gratitude and thanks. It is almost, if not completely, impossible to be fearful when I am filled with gratitude.
Depending upon your goals, it also really puts into perspective your level of focus and your tangible progress to that accomplishment. It is similar to using a magnifying glass, except in this case you are the one being observed.
For example, if you had made a goal to lose 10 pounds in 2 months you would be able to essentially track your actions and see whether or not they match up with your intentions.
If, upon looking back at the last 3 days of journal entries, you find that you have neglected to chart a meal preparation session and have not exercised then your journal entry for today would include a top priority of one of those two things, if not both, and then a reflection on how the following day you could do better by planning these items.
It forces a strong sense of self-awareness, in that it keeps you honest. You will quickly find out if your actions match your words. And if they don’t you are able to reflect on how to make that happen.
I typically couple this with a quick prayer of thanks at the end of every work day and find that I feel much better and less stressed upon returning home.
To conclude I wanted to quote my man, Ben Franklin, since I started out using him as an example.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
The reality of goal setting is that it is hard. This is why only 8% of people achieve their New Years Resolutions. This is the reason, I think, why so many people give up on their dreams.
And this doesn’t have to pertain solely to just fitness. It could be business, family, sprititual, financial, social, whatever.
The bottom line is that establishing a routine allows you to have something to come back to each and every day. Progress does not have to be fast. Quite often it is the complete opposite, especially in weight loss.
However, if you make sure and schedule time each and every day to complete your top priorities, as it relates to your goals, you will be forced to take action on them.
You will begin to redefine who you are. And this, I believe, is the key to your success.