You’re trying to improve every day. You know you’re working hard, and open to new ideas from blog posts, vlogs, podcasts and books.
You’ll take advice from successful people who have been there, done that.
Anything that will help you get where you want to go.
But the volume of advice is crushing. The internet is great for providing access to information, but what should you read? Whom should you listen to?
When successful people center around a single idea, it should get your attention, shouldn’t it?
Well, yes, it should.
But does that mean you have to do exactly what the others do?
One of the fundamental tenets of leadership is having clarity on why you do what you do. Another is to consistently challenge your assumptions. These two disciplines converge when you’re asked to take someone else’s recommendation as gospel.
Take the advice that the first act of your day should be to make your bed. Since Admiral William McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech at University of Texas, more than 5 million people have downloaded his speech. It has led to a bestselling book and the enthusiastic support of self-help luminaries all over social media.
Another idea that has spawned blogs, books and even communities of practitioners is the notion that the most successful people wake up at 5:00 a.m. — or earlier. You can be infinitely more productive if you are working when other people are still sleeping. Or so they tell you.
But what if that advice is…impractical?
What if it doesn’t work for you?
I want to share a leadership perspective that will help you evaluate productivity practices and determine whether you should embrace them, modify them…or disregard them altogether.
The Drill Sergeant May Piss Off the Wrong Person
Admiral McRaven is the former head of US Special Operations Command and when he retired, he was a four-star admiral and the longest serving Navy Seal on active duty. He is a badass. And a successful badass.
When he speaks, you should pay attention.
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another,” he said. “By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”
Accomplishment. Pride. Momentum. Sign me up.
When the video came out, managers shared it with their teams. CEOS sent links of the speech out to their employees. Parents played the video for their kids.
It has achieved hashtag status, with #makeyourbed on Instagram.
Some of the most influential figures in social media weighed in:
- Tim Ferris — said he starts his morning every day by making his bed, because no matter how disastrous the rest of the day might be, he knows that he has accomplished something that day. Tim said that he learned of this practice and its importance from a Hindu priest named Dandapani. I kid you not.
- Lewis Howes — devoted a podcast to the subject and posted a video of himself making his bed on Instagram. I’ll ignore the fact that on his video Lewis’s hair was neater when he awoke than mine would be after a thorough combing and a bucket of hair gel. No bed-head?
- Chalene Johnson — included it in a blog post about her morning routine. She suggests you should make your bed first thing in the morning as part of the start to a healthy morning. She reminds us that it only takes 30 to 60 seconds.
The message is clear. Winners do this. They get a sense of accomplishment first thing in the morning. Every day.
I’m not taking shots at Tim, Lewis and Chalene. I only saw their posts because I follow them. Tim Ferris’s podcast has been downloaded 400 million times and his book, The 4-Hour Work Workweek is a must-read. Lewis Howes has a top 100 podcast and 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Chalene Johnson is a successful fitness and lifestyle author, with more than 40 million downloads of her podcast.
People want to know the routines of successful people. These three are among the top influencers on social media. On the planet. When they speak, people listen. When they recommend, people respond.
But before you get obsessive about fitted sheets and try to put the Ritz Carlton housekeeping staff to shame, let me throw some stats at you.
At least 60% of adults sleep with someone else. Of those, 75% of couples have different sleeping schedules. This means that around 45% of adults don’t go to bed or wake up at the same time as the person sleeping next to them.
So maybe that person you share the bed with — maybe the most important person in your life — doesn’t have the same morning schedule. Does making half the bed count? I don’t think so.
If you timidly try to straighten up your side of the bed and are being extra careful not to wake the person next to you, THEN IT DEFEATS THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF STARTING YOUR DAY WITH CONFIDENCE AND A SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT.
Maybe your morning routine involves a five minute snuggle with one of your children. God forbid human connection with people you love get in the way of perfect corners on your linens.
Start Your Day Earlier Than Anyone on Earth. Um, Maybe.
Author Robin Sharma turned his book, the 5 a.m. Club into a bestseller and generated a devoted following for a daily podcast with that title. Then stories started to come out about Bob Iger (Disney) waking up at 4:30, Sallie Krawcheck (Ellevest) at 4:00, and Tim Cook (Apple) at 3:45.
Do you want to be the one to lay claim to 3:30 a.m.? Please don’t say yes.
The argument makes sense. When you start your day when others are sleeping, you are potentially more productive, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve accomplished something tangible while most of the world slept. You have a mental edge for the rest of the day.
Daniel Pink refers to studies in his book When, that suggest that people have a certain chronotype (think of it as a biological clock) and are disposed to be most productive at different times of day. He classifies people in three categories:
· Larks — these are the early birds. They are at peak productivity at the beginning of the day. They hit a trough in the afternoon. They rebound later in the day and can again be productive with tasks and analytical work. They wear out by evening. Larks are probably already waking up at 5:00 a.m. and don’t need any encouragement.
· Owls — these are the night owls. They have their most productive hours in the evening, typically after 8:00 p.m. They recover in the mornings and hit their trough in the early afternoon. If they wake up at 5:00 a.m., they likely won’t get five hours of sleep. Not good. Not sustainable.
· Third Birds — these are somewhere in between the larks and the owls. They tend to get up a little later than larks, but get functioning in their day earlier than owls.
In order to have your greatest focus and energy during your work day, you need to recover. In other words, you need sleep. At least seven hours. Each night.
I’ve had to force myself to go to bed earlier than I’d like to get that kind of sleep. But my wife is an absolute night owl. When she’s at her most engaged, vibrant self, I need to be there — at least some of the time.
The Absolutely, Positively Best Way to Start Your Day
Great leaders are intentional about their routines. They have a purpose behind why they do what they do. How they begin and end their days should lead to the outcomes that they are seeking.
There are several considerations for how you design your perfect morning routine. These include:
It All Starts With…
Mindset. How you approach your morning routine does influence the rest of your day. All the more reason to have a routine that accomplishes what you want and need. Not because somebody else recommends it, but because it works for you.
You want to start your day in control, so you want to be intentional about your morning routine.
Your mindset, from the moment you wake up, should consist of:
· Time is finite. Time is scarce. I will control how I spend it.
· I own my morning and there is a purpose behind what I do.
· Because I am in control, I won’t look at email or social media until I complete my morning routine. I control my phone; it doesn’t control me.
· By the time I begin working today, my body and mind will be prepared for anything the world can throw at me. I will learn, I will grow and I will win.
I’ve previously shared my personal morning routine (insert link to blog post), but let me suggest a thought process that can help you come up with your own.
Get Your Brain Humming
Most of my recommendations will include alternatives and the encouragement to find what works best for you. Not with this one. I consider this a “must” for everyone. Your brain is 73% water, according to the Journal of Biology and it gets dehydrated during sleep. Start your day with 12–16 ounces of water. Hydrate your brain before you do anything else. You decide if it is tap water, mineral water, sparkling water, flavored water, hot, cold, etc. Not coffee. Not tea. Not bourbon. Water. H2O.
Get Your Body Ready for Battle
You’ve been lying on a mattress for the last 6–8 hours and soon you’ll be sitting or standing for hours at a time. You need to stretch to get your circulation going and give your body a fighting chance for the rest of the day. Identify stretches that work for you: a minimum of three and a maximum of six. Consider different areas of your body. I focus on my hamstrings, pyriformis, hip flexors, shoulders and neck. That’s what I need to function. Determine what you need to put you into beast mode for the day.
This site may give you some ideas: https://www.betterpt.com/post/start-your-morning-with-these-5-stretches
Get Your Mind Prepared to be Positive and Focused
I recommend starting your day with one or both of the following, depending on where you are with your faith. Some people do it later in the day. Some take breaks throughout the day. Pick the time that works for you.
· 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.
Know Where You’re Headed…and Why!
I have a Focus page in the Notes app on my iPhone that I review every morning. I say the items on the page out loud. I don’t spend time meditating on these or rationalizing them. I read them…and move on.
The act of reading these items and speaking them out loud buries them 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 / week / month.
Find an Edge Where and When No One Else Does
My morning routine incorporates at least one activity that I figure no one else is doing (or very few others) and it gives me a mental edge. Most days I will do two or three. So that I can maximize my time, I try to do this while I’m in the bathroom. A partial list of “edge” activities is:
· Brushing my teeth with the opposite hand — it forces you to think, and use a different part of your brain and be mindfully present. You accept the challenge of uncoordination and you persevere. A win.
· Do standing forward bends while balancing on one foot (three on each foot) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1u5yYDszjI Once you can do three on each foot without a wobble, do it while brushing your teeth. I choose to make myself uncomfortable to improve my balance day-by-day and it may have a huge impact in my geriatric years when balance becomes a problem. For others. Not for me. A win.
· Take a cold shower. Rather than relax in the hot, steamy shower. I turn on the cold water. I get a blast of energy as my body screams, “what are you doing to me?” I’m told it improves circulation and reduces inflammation. I don’t care. I accepted a challenge and overcame it. With a smile on my face. A win.
We’re Not Talking About Hours of Time
Just in case you’re thinking that a morning routine takes too long, and the alarm bells from your competitive, uber-achieving subconscious start ringing, let me dispel that fear.
Here is a breakdown of my morning routine:
- Drink 12 oz of water — to hydrate my brain / takes less than a minute
- Stretch — get my back, neck, and body ready for the day / five minutes
- Prayer / Meditation — eliminate head trash, with a focus on God and my intent for the day / five minutes
- Review my Focus page — remind my subconscious what my mindset and priorities are / less than a minute
- Brush teeth left-handed — open my mind to creativity and possibility / one extra minute
- One leg balance exercises — an activity to keep me out of the nursing home / one minute
- Cold shower — improve circulation and shock my body into an energetic, active state / no additional time
Summary of morning routine: seven activities to get my brain, body and mindset all functioning at a high level.
All completed in fourteen minutes. And now I’m ready for action in a focused, confident, butt-kicking mode.
I’m not being prescriptive — these are the activities that work for me. Focus on the purpose behind these and come up with the activities that work for you!
Start Your Day With Intent…and Prepared to Make a Dent
When you’re trying to grow as a leader, you look at other successful people and see what works for them. When thousands of people embrace their examples and copy their routines it should get your attention.
Retired Admiral William McRaven’s speech about making your bed first thing in the morning has gone viral. 5 million downloads. Highly successful people suggest that this an imperative. Not a suggestion, but a mandate.
Other successful people are adamant about the need to start the day by 5:00 a.m. — at the latest — in order to get a jump on the rest of the world. A subset of this group believe that you need to get up even earlier — at 4:00 a.m., or even 3:30 a.m.
Why? Because these practices have been successful for them.
But your concern isn’t about them. It’s about what works for you.
Leadership is about intentionality, not about blind obedience.
Your morning routine can put you in a frame of mind to be massively productive. Today.
It may involve starting your day by making your bed. Or not.
It may involve waking up insanely early. Or not.
You own your time. You control your actions.
So come up with your own routine. Listen to Admiral McRaven. And Tim. And Lewis. And Chalene.
Incorporate what works, discard what doesn’t.
Come up with your routine to prepare your mindset, your brain, and your body for the day — and for the future.
Get an edge.
Then go take action. Make it happen. And then you can recommend to the rest of us what works — so we can determine if it helps us go out and kill it. Just like you.