Bookend Your Day

A strong, habit driven routine is the best way to make progress towards your goals.  By focusing on your Most Valuable Tasks each day, even for as little as 15 minutes, the gains you will accumulate over time will be amazing.

We have looked at creating unbreakable habits before, now I want to examine the best time to apply those habits for maximum leverage.  A habit consists of three parts:

  1. A trigger, or cue
  2. The routine
  3. A reward

While we have many small habits and routines running throughout the day, there is one specific routine that will offer the greatest return over time.  If you take the time to develop it.

Your alarm clock will be the trigger and completing your Most Valuable Tasks will be your reward.

The Morning Routine

Whether the day is for writing, designing, or painting, the consistent practice of a morning routine is the doorway into it all. – Elle Luna

Much has been written about the power of a strong morning routine.  There are websites dedicated to it, and books full of inspirational quotes and stories about it.  Famous people throughout history have lauded the morning routine; Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain.  On The Tim Ferris Show all the guests (all of whom are world class in their field) are asked what the first 90 minutes of their day looks like.

The evidence is all around us; if you want to go far then pay attention to the first thing you do each day.

Creating a morning routine is simple.

  1. Choose what to do – list your goals and dreams.  Then for each, write down what action you need to do again and again to reach that goal.
  2. Do that thing as soon as you wake up – jump out of bed and head straight to the typewriter, the easel, the gym.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to wake up at the same time each day in order for this to be the most effective.  The routine begins from the moment you open your eyes, and the best work is typically done before the rest of the world wakes up.

My personal morning routine looks like this; I wake no later than 05:45 with my alarm, though often I wake naturally around 05:30.  I stretch, throw on my running clothes, go downstairs and turn on the coffee.  Now I sit down and write until 06:30, sometimes a little later depending on what time I need to be at work that day.  I hit save on my progress, throw on my shoes, and head out the door.  The next hour is spent running, then doing calisthenics and swimming if I am at home.  Finally I move into the routine of having breakfast, getting cleaned up, and heading out the door.

It is the same every day whether at home, in a hotel, or on a ship.  If I need to leave earlier to get to a work site then I modify by waking earlier or training later.  If I’m on a tug with no way to run I’ll focus on the calisthenics for that day.  Simple.

My one word of caution is to keep your routine simple.  Subtraction > addition.  There is plenty of great advice out there, the trouble is that if you try to follow it all you will end up following none.  Stick with those two or three actions that will make the biggest impact in your life, and only add in something new when the previous actions are firmly established.

The Evening Routine

The evening routine has one single purpose – to facilitate the next day’s morning routine.

Some people do their writing or training in the evening so will need to modify this, going so far as switching the two routines from morning to night.  But the bulk of people will have better long term success working to build a strong morning routine and working with that.  Life doesn’t start to get in the way at 5:00 a.m..  That typically comes later in the day.

The evening routine will be much shorter, as it is comprised of smaller tasks.  Creating a good one means you must examine everything you want to get done the next morning, then systematically remove as many barriers as possible the night before.

In way of example, my evening routine goes like this;  after dinner is over I’ll make my lunch.  Kids lunches too.  I’m in there tidying up anyways so better to do it all at once.  The coffee gets set for the next morning and the dishwasher is turned on so that it can be emptied in the morning then re-filled throughout the day.

I might poke around in the garage, pack my bag if I’ll be traveling, or prepare paperwork for the next days job until it is the kids bedtime.  Brush teeth, read stories, lights out.  Then I go lay out my running clothes so I don’t need to turn on the light when I wake up.  With that done I like to do a little stretching, often times running through a Founder Sequence from Dr. Eric Goodman (great for your back!).  Finally, I fill out my Bullet Journal for the day, logging that mornings run, write down thoughts, make lists, whatever needs to go in there.  Then I jump into bed and watch an episode of something on Netflix with my wife, or read a bit, until it’s lights out at 10:00 p.m..  That time is important as it’s what ensures I get the sleep required to wake up energized and ready to get after it.

Nothing earth shattering there, but it really helps me to start strong the next day, thereby maximizing the time I have available for my morning routine.  By eliminating the  mundane jobs the night before you open the way for creativity and clear your mind of those niggling little thoughts of tiny tasks to be done, thus allowing stronger focus.

Two Routines = Results

Each night, clear the decks for the work you want to perform the next morning.  Each morning, wake up right when you want to and get straight into it.

Roll out of bed, into your running shoes, and out the door.  Or push a button on the coffee pot, sit down, and start writing.  Whatever your goals, now is the time to make it happen.

That same evening, think about any friction points that morning and eliminate them ahead of time.  Remove any obstacle that takes valuable time away from your mornings work.

Finally, take the time to reflect on your day and to track your progress.  A small ‘X’ each day placed next to a completed task is great motivation, especially as the string of unbroken X’s grows longer over the days and weeks.  Writing out what you intend to do the next day can help you set your intentions.  Then checking it off the next day will encourage you to do it again.

Greatness happens in the shadows.  The hard work is done in the quiet hours, year after year.  These two routines are how you carve out the time and create the proper mindset to make this happen.

Do you have a morning routine?  Or does the morning have you?

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