Are you interested in building some simple habits to make every day more productive? We’ve all had that day (or segments of a day) that seem to just flow perfectly. Everything gets done in a timely manner, your stress levels are low, you knock out tasks non-stop and before you know it, it’s early afternoon and you’re completely done and free for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, for most of us, these days only occur every so often, or maybe not at all. Maybe you have a super productive morning, or a super creative afternoon, but the rest of the day is just mundane and lackluster. This post will involve tips on how to make each and every day as productive and low-stress as possible.
Having structure in your day enables you to achieve more freedom. Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a fact. When you structure your day to tailor to your exact needs and priorities, you now have control. You control when you work, how much you work, and when you finish working. You simply need to set a few systems in place that enable you to control your morning, be creative and busy in the afternoon, and be free for any activity you may have in the evening. Whether your goal is to start a business, get your master’s degree, lose some weight, or just be a generally more productive person, it all begins with structure.
Your Magic Time
Each day begins in the morning. Some of the most creative writers would write a majority of their best work in the morning. For most people, willpower and discipline is at its highest during the morning, the first few hours after waking up. We’re humans, not machines, and we can only handle a certain amount of time spent focusing on difficult or focus-requiring tasks per day. As the day progresses, we have less and less bandwidth to handle high priority and high discipline tasks. Every single person reading this has that magical time of the day where they can seamlessly get done what they need to. Your task is to find that time of day and focus on your most important priority for at least 30 minutes. For most people, it’s the morning. Perhaps not immediately after waking up, but sometime in the morning. Regardless of what time it may be for you, blocking this time off every single day to tackle your most difficult or most important task is something everyone should consider doing. Think of this as the task that's going to get you to your goal the fastest. Whether it's getting fit and healthy, writing a book, starting a business, or developing a website. Dedicating your "Magic Hour" to focus solely on this task will ensure that you're not wasting time or brain power.
For me, most days my most important task is to work on my business. Because of this, I spend a minimum of the first hour of each day programming or writing content. I believe getting outside and moving is also extremely important in the morning. Getting sunlight and some light activity, like walking the dogs for 30 minutes or so, can go a long long way in improving physical and mental health and also increasing creative thought. I make sure to get a 30-60 minute walk each morning as close to sunrise as possible. This acts as a nice break from sitting at the computer, and I come back hungry for breakfast and ready to tackle the next task, which is usually some reading or research. By 10 a.m., I usually have 1-2 hours of writing and programming done, a long walk, have eaten breakfast, and spent another 30-60 minutes researching topics for my content. By mid-day, It's time for me to strength train (i love training and have made it a habit, so I do not need to do this during my Magic Hour). IN the afternoon, I'm ready to handle the potential curveballs that life throws at me. This could involve emails and busy work, client check-ins, more research or learning, or even unforeseen must-do's in order to keep my life in check. Even if for some reason I'm unable to dedicate afternoon time to my business, I've still accomplished plenty of important tasks for the day and can happily accept it as an overall win. But usually, there are plenty of low focus-requiring tasks I can do each afternoon that are still hugely beneficial for my life and business. The greatest part is, each day at 5PM (usually earlier), I can "clock out" for the day and focus on family, date night, more dog walks, or whatever else I want to do for the day. I'll admit, occasionally work still has to be done later into the evening, but this only occurs from time to time and is just part of running your own business.
Now, let’s take a look at an example of how "Average Joe's" day goes. Joe was up till midnight watching Netflix and he has to go to work at 9 a.m. Joe sets his alarm for 7 and presses snooze till 7:45. He rushes out of bed and gets himself ready to drive to work. He doesn't have time for breakfast but since Joe doesn't really eat healthy anyways, he isn't really benefiting from skipping breakfast (intermittent fasting). Joe makes it to work 10 minutes late and spends the first hour of his day trying to figure out what tasks he needs to complete. Finally he gets some work done, and his friend Jim stops by his office at 11:30 a.m. and invites him to lunch. Joe goes and gets a steak and cheese with some sweet potato fries (because health) and a couple beers at the restaurant down the street. He gets back to the office at 1 PM and is ready to take a nap. Since he can;t nap on the job, ore caffeine is the only solution, and by 2 or 3 PM he’s back to getting some work done. Unfortunately, he’s way behind and he’s going to be home late again from work. By the time he gets home at 8 PM he eats his takeout dinner and showers, he’s pretty much gotten 3 hours of work done in an 11 hour day. Once again, it’s Netflix till midnight, oversleep, and have the same mediocre day again tomorrow. It’s a vicious cycle.
What Joe is missing is structure. He has no plan, no schedule, no discipline to wake up when he’s supposed to, no time for doing things he enjoys, and he can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour. The day owns Joe. He is not in control. What Joe needs is to write down a schedule in order to structure his days and get more done. Joe needs do develop structure and discipline so that he is in control of his day, every day. For joe, who works a 9-5 that might look like:
0530 - Wake-up, coffee, tackle 30 minutes of his most important task
0700-0800 - Breakfast, prepare for work (most prep was done the night prior)
0800-1130 - Work (Joe made an outline of his morning tasks yesterday!)
1130-1200 - Walk
1200-1230 - Eat healthy lunch
1230-1530- Work work work
1530-1600 - Joe has knocked out 2-3 days worth of what his former self did, now he preps his outline/overview/plan of what he will accomplish tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon
1600 - Go home, eat a healthy dinner, still watch his favorite Netflix show, prepare his food, gym and work clothes for tomorrow.
2130 - Joe goes to bed, completely free of anxiety, and sleeps for 8 hours
Simply writing an outline of what you wish your day to look like can make it so much easier to build positive habits. The times do not always have to match up, but knowing exactly what you’re intending to do during specific periods of the day can provide the structure in your life that you’ve been missing. Use the above example and personalize it to your goals. Try it for one week, you can even skip the weekend if you’d like (although this still works great for off days!). Prioritize your main goal, and do it in the morning. I understand studies show that you don’t perform physically as well first thing in the morning as you do later in the day, but if you are trying to improve your fitness, lose weight, or build some muscle and you have a tendency to miss training sessions because you “run out of time,” consider doing them in the morning before life throws it’s curveballs at you. Training first thing in the morning when you may be 5% weaker is still FAR better than not training at all. Also, your body will adapt pretty quickly to it, and soon you’ll be just as likely to get a morning workout as you are to brush your teeth!
I challenge you to try it out for a week, see how much your life improves, and see if you have any desire to go back to your old ways of just winging it. Discipline and structure becomes very addictive. We could all use some positive addictions in our lives.