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?

7 Lessons Learned From Jay Gatsby’s Daily Routine

I recently finished The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This was part of my 12 Months of Modernism reading program and is my favorite book to date.  As a firm proponent of having a strong daily routine I was thrilled to come across the following passage, detailing the conversation between Nick Carraway and Mr. Henry C. Gatz following (Spoiler alert!) Gatsby’s untimely death:

He seemed reluctant to put away the picture, held it for another minute, lingeringly, before my eyes.  Then he returned the wallet

…and pulled from his pocket a ragged old copy of a book called Hopalong Cassidy.

“Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy.  It just shows you.”

He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see.  On the last fly-leaf was printed the word SCHEDULE and the date September 12, 1906.  And underneath:

Rise from bed                                                                 6.00                       A.M.

Dumbell exercise and wall scaling                             6.15-6.30              “

Study electricity, etc.                                                     7.15-8.15              “

Work                                                                                8.30-4.30              P.M.

Baseball and sports                                                       4.30-5.00              “

Practice elocution, poise and how to obtain it         5.00-6.00              “

Study needed inventions                                              7.00-9.00              “

General Resolves

No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]

No more smokeing or chewing

Bath every other day

Read one improving book or magazine per week

Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week

Be better to parents

“I come across this book by accident,” said the old man.  “It just shows you, don’t it?”

“It just shows you.”

“Jimmy was bound to get ahead.  He always had some resolves like this or something.  Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that…”

What a great schedule!

In the novel Gatsby is well traveled, educated type of gentleman; if somewhat insecure.  His frame of mind was obviously fixed on self-improvement and judging by end result was quite successful.  A number of points on his list jump right out at me, and I’d like to take a closer look.

  1. He was an early riser and got enough sleep

The schedule shows Gatsby rising at 6 a.m. and finishing his evening study at 9 p.m.  Allowing an hour to wind down in the evening means he would still get a solid eight hours of sleep each night.

Sleep is vital to our health and development; both for consolidating knowledge learned and for repairing our bodies.  While there is a range in the required amount of sleep each person needs it is generally accepted to be somewhere between seven and nine hours.  Anything less is shortchanging yourself, and any perceived productivity gains made by sacrificing that sleep is typically an illusion as studies show that productivity declines drastically when sleep deprived.

  1. Fitness played a major role in his day

Following a vigorous Victorian style workout of dumbbells and wall scaling, which I can only assume is an early form of parkour, first thing in the morning sounds like an excellent way to get the blood flowing.  Then after work a more social bit of sports takes place, with some baseball or other team sport.

Notice how it doesn’t mention “drinking at the pub” or “watching reruns on Netflicks”.  The lesson here is one that we all know even if we don’t follow it as strictly as we should.  Exercise and physical activity makes us feel good.  And when we feel good we do better work.

Also note that Gatsby was working to give up both smokeing (sic) and chewing.  Nice to know that we aren’t alone in struggling with vices.

  1. He was studious…

An hour’s study of electricity, etc. every morning, for what is obviously due only to personal interest is impressive.  On top of that, one improving book or magazine each week shows the dedication to increasing his general knowledge.

Be it related to our chosen fields, or for something we hope to achieve in the future, an hour each day plus a book per week is an excellent volume of study that would yield great benefits over time.  The key of course is to maintain consistency in doing so.

  1. …and a budding entrepreneur

Finishing his day “studying needed inventions” proves this.  The key word is “needed”.  Entrepeneurship in a pure sense is identifying a problem, then solving it.  This reminds me of Thomas Edison, who came up with many inventions in his lifetime.  The man never stopped!  I think that bringing an invention to market back then was similar to starting a business today.

The key to doing so successfully is simple; you’ve got to put in the work.  Whether it is a blog, a franchise, or Amazon, you’ve got to put in the work daily.  There are no shortcuts.

  1. When he worked, he worked

On top of his rigorous schedule of self improvement Gatsby still managed to find the time to work an eight hour day!  There is a culture developing these days that views the dayjob as something to put up with while striving towards your dream.  And the work towards that dream job is often done on your bosses time.  I challenge that your day job will become your dream job, once you are good enough at it.

Perhaps the work isn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, but it is what allows the freedom to pursue the other activities.  Combining your day job with careful project layering can help ensure that you are taking the most possible value from it.

  1. He was building a nest egg

Three bucks a week back around the turn of the century was worth… how much?  More than I ever saved as a young man I’m guessing.  We all know about the power of compound interest, and further to that, having some cash on hand for when an opportunity arises is one of the smartest things a person can do.  Gatsby, what with his inventing and all, probably spent that money on a life changing opportunity that came along at just the right time.

The moral is simple; stop buying so much shit and save your money for something that can truly change your life.

  1. He was careful who he hung out with

Managing relationships can be difficult.  It is obvious that Gatsby had a few relationships that were not serving him well and perhaps were even toxic.  By creating distance from people that are dragging you down there is more room to let uplifting people into your life.

He also resolved to be better to his parents, indicating a growing maturity and realization that in the end there are few people in the world that will support you unconditionally like your family will.

Your Own Perfect Day

The schedule presented by Gatsby is that of a young man with different priorities than you or I likely have.  But there are a number of universal truths hidden within it as well.

Personally I perform best when following a routine.  I’ve tried to lay out my days the best way possible over the past few years.  When something isn’t working I’ll modify the routine, but only after giving it an honest try.  But exercise, sleep, work, time with family, reading, and self-study all play a role in each day that I am totally satisfied with.

Do you have a daily schedule or list of general resolves?  Or do you just let the days happen as they may?  I think we can all take a lesson from the Great Gatsby on this one and plan our today’s for a brighter tomorrow.

What say you old boy?