So what do you do now?
You’ve attacked your workday as best you can to maximize productivity.
You’ve prioritized. You’ve delegated.
You’ve sought out resources like David Allen’s Getting Things Done or Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits / Zen to Done and tried to simplify things as best you can.
But the clock keeps ticking. During your workday, it seems like you’re suffering from an acute case of More.
More tasks are screaming for your attention.
All of which leads to…
Maybe the answer lies not in what you do during your workday, but in how you begin and end your day. Before you’re officially working. And when you’re supposedly “done” for the day.
Here are some start of day and end of day routines that I recommend. They will allow you to attack your day with energy and focus and then give you closure at the end of your day.
Launch it, Seize it, Own it…on Your Terms
Your morning routine sets the tone for the entire day. It is also a part of the day that you can control. So be intentional about it. Make it count.
The following 7 step morning routine is not just what I recommend. It’s what I do. It works for me. And it will work for you, too.
1. Jump Start Your Brain
When you wake up, drink 12–16 ounces of warm lemon water (the juice from half a normal sized lemon). I heat water in the Keurig (minus the coffee, duh…). I can sleepwalk through the process and not screw it up.
When you sleep, normal breathing will cause you to dehydrate overnight. Warm lemon water will help flush your digestive system and begin to rehydrate your body, particularly your brain. Yes, your brain. According to the Journal of Biology, the human brain is made up of 73% water. Hydrating it first thing in the morning gets it functioning optimally, right away.
Blog posts have claimed that lemon water improves your skin, freshens your breath, provides vitamin C, and all kinds of other benefits. I haven’t bothered to research and prove or debunk those claims. The possibility of positive benefits is good enough for me.
I get a mental boost from knowing that my first act of the day is something good for my body.
2. Prepare Your Body for Battle
You’ve just spent a number of hours lying in a bed and despite an optimal sleeping position, the comfort level of the mattress, the quality of your sleep, when you wake up all your joints are in some state of rebellion.
In addition to getting your mind functioning right away, you need to get your body ready for the day ahead by committing to a daily stretch routine.
The morning stretch will increase your flexibility and kick-start your circulation. It will give your neck, back and shoulders a fighting chance to serve you well throughout your day.
Your morning stretching routine should address your hamstrings, pyriformis, hip flexors, shoulders and neck.
The following are some resources to consider to come up with your morning stretch routine:
- 15 daily stretches on Health.com
- Morning stretches on paleohacks.com
- Moving in the morning on themovementfix.com
You need to commit to the routine and don’t leave it to your mood or the uncertainties of the coming workday. Make it a habit. Like brushing your teeth.
I drink my lemon water while I stretch. It saves time and ensures that neither one gets skipped. Yes, this time you are allowed to multi-task.
3. Getting Your Mind — Conscious and Unconscious — to Drive You Forward
Before you allow your mind to get sucked into an email / text / social media vortex and all the accompanying demands and stressors, you need calm. You need perspective.
I recommend starting your day with one or both of the following, depending on where you are with your faith.
- Prayer — Start with a prayer of gratitude. What are you grateful for today? Thank God for those things. Ask God to guide your steps and protect you. Ask Him to allow you to be open for people, situations and opportunities for you to grow, learn and make a difference.
Prayer gives you perspective and a sense that you’re not in this alone. It allows you to embrace the day ahead of you. It’s not all up to you.
- Meditation — Your ability to relax and calm your mind allows you to be open to opportunity and possibility throughout the day. Studies suggest that meditation can enhance your creativity and your positive emotions. This allows you to go after your day with a better attitude and better able to see opportunities as they arise.
There are some great apps to help teach you how to meditate and create the discipline to do it daily. Two that I have tried are Headspace and Calm. Both are good.
4. Look at Your Compass Every Day
I have a printed card that I review every morning. Once my mind is clear and calm, I say the items on the card out loud.
The act of reading it and speaking it out loud buries it in my subconscious. My brain recalls these items at various times through the day or week. It keeps them top of mind when I try to prioritize my day / my week / my month.
Here are the items on my card today:
My mission — To educate and encourage ambitious leaders to get farther faster
My current top priority — business: Complete the SmartBlogger course
My current top priority — personal: Average at least seven hours of sleep per day
My ten-year goal: Donna and I live where we want and travel when we want
This month’s affirmation: I am known for doing exactly what I said I would do
5. Put the “OIMF”
Dr. Tom Hill, a life coach, tireless connector and the author of Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneurial Soul, taught me this acronym and I think it is powerful. OIMF stands for “Odds in My Favor.” It represents the little things you do that can make all the difference to someone else — which in turn, can provide a benefit to you.
I’ve applied that to doing a small gesture each day for my wife.
Every morning, while the Keurig is warming up, I put away the dishes in the dishwasher. It isn’t Donna’s responsibility, but she has been doing it for years. Maybe decades.
It only takes me a couple of minutes, but when Donna wakes up and starts her day, she knows that I’ve already done something for her. I hope it makes her smile. In any case, I can start my day knowing that the day isn’t all about ME.
Before you start your day, do one small gesture for someone else. Use your imagination.
6. Make Sure Even the Water Knows You’re the Boss
When you take your morning shower, you need to spend at least the last 30 seconds with the water as cold as you can get it. Don’t cheat — I count out one one thousand, two one thousand…
Yes, hot showers are comfortable and loosen sore muscles and stiff joints. But when frigid water is raining down on you, you send a message to your entire body, especially your brain, that you are in control.
It provides a shot of adrenaline that you’ve conquered the elements and you’re ready to shout to the world “bring it on!”
God bless you if you want to take a ten-minute cold shower. I think even doing it for thirty seconds gives you a psychological edge at the start of your day.
7. Be Intentionally Uncoordinated and Uncomfortable
Start brushing your teeth with the opposite hand. An act you’ve come to repeat daily without even thinking about it, will suddenly become difficult. It will feel weird.
According to brain training guru Jim Kwik, we have 60–70,000 thoughts per day, but 90–95% of our thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday…and the day before. Kwik has designed several exercises, including the opposite hand teeth brushing, to challenge your brain to think differently.
This simple act trains you to be mindfully present. You feel uncomfortable. You have to concentrate, or you may risk hurting yourself.
It also trains you to be open to small challenges and helps you adapt to change. Over time, it makes you more receptive to taking on larger, more difficult challenges.
Your day will be full of challenges. By training your brain while standing at the sink, you’ll start preparing your brain for the big meeting / difficult conversation / new opportunity to come later in the day.
Close Out Your Day for a Good Night (and a Better Morning)
While your morning is spent revving up your body and your brain, your evening routine needs to be designed to calm your mind.
Here are three steps you can repeat nightly to improve your rest and to prepare you for a productive tomorrow.
1. Name Them and Rank Them
Whether you work in an office or work virtually, you need to have a definitive end to your workday. It may be at 5:00 p.m. when you walk out the door or it may be 10:00 p.m. when you close your laptop for the day.
But before you “end your day,” make sure that you identify your top three priorities for the next day, in ranked order. When you know what your priorities are for the next day, it gives you some closure to today.
It also helps you be more productive more quickly tomorrow.
Most people don’t do it. Won’t do it. Consequently, they become reactive and let the outside world dictate their priorities.
When you believe you’ve just created a productive edge over the rest of the working world, you gain confidence. You’ve got this.
Your brain begins to relax. Worry and paranoia retire for the night.
2. From Mind to Paper to Brain
After letting go of work, email and social media for the day, you should take a few minutes to write in a journal.
Get a hardbound journal. Spend a few dollars on it. Make the journal important. Valuable.
In the journal, write down answers to the following questions:
- What did I learn today?
This forces to you to reflect on your day, not on what you accomplished, but on what you learned. Depending on the day, it may be an intellectual nugget. It may be hard lessons learned when things didn’t go your way. It may be practical. It may even be spiritual.
A day spent learning is a day well spent.
- What am I grateful for?
Be specific. Avoid the automatic general responses around family, health, or spiritual grounding. What specifically are you grateful for about that particular event, person or situation — and why is that important to you today?
When you get specific it causes your antenna to be up during successive days so that you become more aware of what is occurring around you.
It also forces you to look on the positive, through a reflective lens.
Over time this helps you change how you perceive situations. You’re less likely to get triggered. You’re more likely to embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.
- What are my top three priorities for tomorrow, in ranked order?
You’ve already addressed these when you stopped your workday. You are now documenting them from memory. Whatever mental gymnastics you used to arrive originally at these priorities is over. Your thought process around ranking their priority is done. You can acknowledge them now with confidence.
The physical act of writing down your answers on paper is also a way of mentally letting go. You’ve sent a message to your subconscious brain that there is no reason to stress. No need for a 3:00 a.m. panic attack.
3. Prepare Your Lair
You need to set up your bedroom to be most conducive to sleep. Restful sleep. REM and deep sleep.
- Find the right temperature. Your bedroom should feel cold. According to sleep.org the ideal temperature for sleep is 60–67 degrees. Your body temperature decreases which helps facilitate sleep. 68 degrees seems to work best for me.
- Eliminate electromagnetic frequencies in your room. Make sure your wireless router is in another room. Put your phone on airplane mode overnight (assuming you keep it in your bedroom when you go to bed). I don’t know how serious exposure to electromagnetic frequencies is, but I just eliminate any chance that it will disrupt my sleep.
- Make your room as dark as posible. Eliminate blue lights on electronics and appliances. Turn off what you can or little pieces of black duct tape come in handy. If light from outside or from other rooms seeps in through your curtains, shades or blinds, consider using blackout curtains.
- Read a non-digital book. No television or computer for at least a half hour before you go to bed. The book on your phone or iPad invites you to check emails or engage in social media. The artificial light they emit gears your subconscious up for work. The routine of pulling out the paperback or hard cover book signals your brain that it is bed time. I recommend reading fiction or a biography. It will let your mind wander. It may invite dreams. When you read a business book, your brain is more likely to spool up trying to apply this to your work or worrying about what you need to remember. Let it go.
Use the Bookends of Your Day To Amp Up Your Productivity
You’ve done your best to be efficient and productive in your workday.
But the demands are relentless. Day. After day. After day.
You’re at a point where improvements come in small increments, but you’ve addressed most of the big stuff.
You can’t just start earlier and work later. At some point your run into the reality that you only have 24 hours in a day.
And you need some “me” time, to devote to your health. Your social life. Your sanity. Relationships. Fun.
And you still want to accomplish more.
There are morning and evening routines that you can use to become an efficiency machine. A productive beast. In a positive, healthy way.
Own your morning. It sets the tone, both physically and mentally, for the whole day.
Be intentional about closing out your day. It will clear your mind and allow you to recover.
Between those bookends to your day, prepare to become wildly productive. More energy. More focus. Better results.