Success doesn’t come overnight. Unless you win the lottery or your rich uncle Mike dies and leaves you a fortune. I had a rich uncle that I didn’t speak with for over 20 years and when he died he didn’t leave me a cent. My advice is not to bet on any rich uncle and to do the work because it matters. Ultimately, you want to add something of value to the world no matter how rich you or your uncle gets. Though it feels like money is the important aspect of working, finding meaning in what you do is way more fulfilling.
Building something of value takes time and each day’s effort compounds toward a desired goal or achievement. Being productive and doing deep work is at the core of building anything of value—including your skills and relationships. In my view, there is no quick road to success. Speaking of success, you should define what that is for you. Is it money? Is it freedom? It is traveling the world? Though this article isn’t about those topics, you should spend a little time figuring out the answers to these essential questions before you dive into a daily habit.
I started studying productivity several years ago when I realized that a could hack my abilities by setting up processes and systems. I’ve been interested in productivity for a long time. Back in the day, I took A David Allen workshop on Getting Things Done. Then I found Cal Newport, my current productivity guru. Cal wrote Deep Work (link below) and a few other books that have influenced my daily practice architecture.
The following is a snapshot of how I currently stack my days for maximum productivity. My advice to is keep it simple in the beginning and tweak it as you go. if you get over ambitious when you start out, you’ll likely just quit before getting enough momentum to keep going. My current practice takes me about 45 minutes and I do it first thing in the morning.
This is the most important part of the day and getting through the morning routine is vital to setting the tone and rhythm of who I will be this day. If I skip something in the routine I try and make it up later but it just isn’t the same as getting my anchor set by doing everything on this list.
- Meditation with Sam Harris (10-20 minutes)
- Morning Pages (The Artist’s Way) of Journal (5 minutes)
- 5 minute gratitude journal (5 minutes)
- 100 sit-ups (5 minutes)
- Yoga/Stretch (10 minutes)
- Drink 2 glasses of water with fresh lemon (5 minutes)
- Go outside and bless the day (2 minutes)
There are two sides to all of us—the creator and the manager. The creator is responsible for bringing innovations, inventions, code, words, articles, photos, videos, or fill-in-the-blank into the world. I define creativity as something we bring into reality to celebrate our uniqueness and to share with others. Creativity is the lifeblood of living and we are all creators. Protecting the creative juices is vital to the process of creativity. Thus, the morning is set aside for creating because that is the best time for me. It might be different for you. When is your focus and energy the highest? When you figure it out, protect that time diligently. The following is how I celebrate my create window:
- No email, social media, or touching the phone before 10am
- Plan 2 creative tasks and do those before anything else
- Check surf forecast and plan surf slot (most important task)
- Work in 30 minute sprints with headphones until surf slot (listen to Brain.FM)
Taking time for myself every day is essential to doing great work. I find exercise, social interaction, and learning help nourish and recharge my batteries for deeper meaningful work. I usually take a few hours in the middle of the day to honor my interests:
- Surf, gyn, hike exercise
- Have lunch with a friend(s)
- Read and sometimes nap (currently reading list)
The afternoon manager is for putting order into the things that have accumulated while I am either in creative mode or ‘me’ time. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I know what you are thinking; you need to answer all those client emails and put out the fires that are burning in your inbox. Well, that’s why I slide in a quick email slot in the late morning to scan any major issues before heading off into ‘me’ time. Give yourself 30 minutes after creator mode and before me time to address those pending tasks that just can’t wait. Eventually, you might find that you don’t even need that morning slot and that checking your email later is more productive and sane. Here are my manager tasks:
- Check in with staff (Basecamp)
- Eat my frog first thing (Brian Tracy: Eat That Frog)
- Avoid meetings (I find most meetings a waste of time and energy)
- Answer emails—go to zero daily (SaneBox App)
- Do manager type tasks: pay bills, fill out forms, answer emails
Turn Off The Phone & Apps On Silent
It’s essential that you remove all distractions while you work. Every time you get distracted by social media, a text, or slack notification your cognitive flow is jeopardized. Work is hard enough without distractions—if you are letting yourself be pulled in multiple directions every 15 minutes you will not be able to do deep work. Here are the boundaries I set while working:
- Phone always on silent
- No phone or computer notifications
- No interrupting unless house or cat on fire
- No phone near me while in creator mode
- No checking social media
Always Be Learning
Learning never ends. Most of my reading is focused on learning but I also take some online courses and have been in a mastermind for over 6 years that allows for both learning and social connection each week. My goal for learning is the following:
- Spend at least 30-60 minutes every day learning something new (also tracked though daily habits metrics)
Review End of Day
Someone once said that if you don’t track it, it doesn’t change. I think this is partly true. Creating a daily review helps you bring awareness to the day and creates accountability. Make it short and sweet:
- 5 min journal review
- Review daily habits
- Think about optimization: what could I have done better?
- Shutdown complete: no screen after 6:30 (except kindle)
Books I Recommend On Productivity:
Almost everything on this list I have learned from one of the authors listed below:
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- The One Thing by Gary Keller
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey
- The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky
- Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
In summary, start with something simple and make it your own. Incorporating a daily routine will help you move toward your goals and will give you a bit of structure in what so often feels like a chaotic life.