It's 6:00pm and you've just had another long day at work. You check through your emails one last time and notice that once again, you've left most of the important work unfinished. You're a bit stressed about some deadlines, but your increasingly growing headache from a rough day at work convinces you to retire home early.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Do you ever have those weeks where you just wonder where all the hours have gone?
If so, this post is for you. If you'd like to achieve more in life and increase your overall energy while getting work done, read on.
During my financial freedom journey, I've built a simple routine system that allowed me to have productive days on regular basis. The system includes two separate sets of routines: one set in the morning and one during my workday.
Let's begin with my first set - my morning rituals:
I used to love checking emails and Facebook first thing in the morning. For years, I would turn my laptop on, still bleary-eyed from the night's sleep, check my emails in one window, read Facebook updates in a second, run some Google queries in a third, and all that while checking the latest NBA basketball results. I would then make myself a coffee and a quick bite to eat, usually a sugary cereal, and go back to the laptop screen, holding my coffee mug in one hand and the cereal bowl in the other. I didn't even taste my food.
I'm sure you can find a bit of yourself in the above description. We all have our usual morning routines and some of them seem harmless, but if your goal is to become more productive then you have to pay close attention to your morning rituals.
How you start your day becomes the template for a day well lived. It is the key to a productive and fulfilling day that sets the context and direction for what follows. You can get your mind and your body into a balanced state, ready for the day ahead, by creating a more aligned experience with yourself and with your environment which is done with some simple morning rituals. These help your mind and body perform at its highest frequently making you more present, feeling more at peace and joyful, and helping you to produce the results you want from life with ease.
You may have to use some willpower here to change your morning habits, especially if they've been around for long time, but this is where you want to start.
Morning Ritual #1 - Make your bed, take a shower, and don’t check your phone!
What's the first thing you do when you get out of bed each morning? A recent study found that 80% of smartphone users check their mobile devices within 15 minutes of waking up.
This can be quite destructive. Here’s why: when you first wake up your brain is in a high vibrational state ready to receive insights and other A-Ha moments. Checking your phone will only fill up your mental capacity and set the brain onto autopilot with potential feelings of stress, worry, and never ending to-do lists.
The first hour of your day should be focused on yourself so that you can choose and create the thoughts and feelings you want to implant into your brain first thing, rather than letting your brain run off at full pace on its own.
Instead, start with something simple, such as making your bed and taking a shower.
Starting with a simple task sends dopamine and serotonin to your brain and will be your accomplishment of many.
* For the brave ones, you can boost your energy by taking a short cold shower, this improves circulation, relieves depression, strengthens immunity, increases energy and well-being and many other things – You can turn it to hot after those first 30 seconds and luxuriate in the warmth!
Morning Ritual #2 - Water, Water, Water.
You don't need a medical degree to know that water is the basis of life and is tightly linked to the flow of oxygen and nutrients through the body. Our muscles are 75% water; our lungs are 90% water; our blood is 85% water; our brain is around 80% water; even our bones have some degree of water in them.
Since much of our body is made up of water, the absence of water intake during the long hours of sleep leaves our body under-hydrated. By drinking water on an empty stomach we ensure that fluids are easily absorbed and that blood circulation is enhanced.
Drinking 2-3 glasses of water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning will not only refresh your body but also will help remove the toxins released during the night.
As water circulates through the body, it flushes toxins and waste from organs, muscle tissues and cells. I often add freshly squeezed lemon juice to aid in the detox effect and to give my water a more refreshing taste. Lemon makes the body more alkaline and helps to flush out the toxins that naturally build up in the body overnight.
* Drinking a liter of water immediately after waking up is an ancient and popular therapy in Eastern countries such as Japan, China, and India. It is popularly called the "Water Cure" and you can Google it. Some of the claimed health benefits are relief from stress, weight loss, better digestion, glowing skin and most importantly, feeling fresh and energetic throughout the day. But don't take anyone's word for it. Broaden your knowledge and try it yourself.
Morning Ritual #3 - Meditate
As you probably already know, meditating in the morning can help centre your mind and balance your thoughts for the day ahead.
Numerous studies have shown that meditation dramatically affects your mental clarity, wakes up your sympathetic nervous system and gets you more grounded and present whilst decreasing the mental chatter of your mind.
Studies have also shown that meditation has a positive impact when dealing with pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, and many other psychosomatic diseases.
* Remember, there's no 'right' way to meditate. You can simply focus on your in-breath and your out-breath, and stay present. If your mind does start to wander, gently bring your focus back to your breathing and your body. Over time, insights will naturally reveal themselves, bringing higher level knowledge and healing where it's needed.
Morning Ritual #4 - Get your body moving
Our body was made to move and be physically active. Moving your body in the morning can boost your energy, improve your mood, and revitalize your body.
And when I say moving your body, I'm not talking about getting on some exercise torture machine and sweating until you're out of breath, but simply about a relaxed and intentional use of your body. This can be as little as a few stretches, a few push ups, or a short walk outside.
Movement of the body is not only desirable but also necessary. Unlike the bloodstream, waste fluid (lymph fluid) does not have its own pump, but it does need to circulate. That's our job. As we move around, the lymph fluid is moved and the metabolic garbage container gets emptied. This is vital especially in the morning. During sleep the body's circulation is slowed down and carbon dioxide and lactic acid accumulate. Moving your body helps clearing that, which in turn helps to increase your mobility and boost your energy. It also moves your blood, gets you more oxygen, opens your joints up, and improves your immune system and natural healing.
* Your routine does not have to be long and it doesn't need to be outside. In my case, my short exercise routine which is only a few minutes long, involves some stretching, a small amount of aerobics to get my heart rate up, and a few push-ups at the end. By the time I'm finished I feel clear, I've gotten centered and I'm ready to take on my day.
Morning Ritual #5 - Journaling
Journaling in the morning is a great way to positively begin the day. You only need to spend a few minutes of journaling for it to raise your inner awareness, awaken your creativity, and pinpoint what is important.
There are many different types of journaling practices you can follow. You can for example start with a stream of consciousness free-writing. This means that you put your pen to paper, start writing and don’t stop until a page or two are done.
Or, you can use the first minute of journaling to list the things you're grateful for, even the smallest things like your morning cup of coffee and the things we take for granted like having hot water and even waking up alive!. Each day, you can focus on a different aspect of life such as your relationships, finances, health, and so forth.
Another option is to use sentence-completion prompts. These prompost can help you open up emotionally, stimulate ideas, and figure things out. Here are the 5 prompts I personally use each morning:
“What’s important is….
“Yesterday’s biggest lesson was ...
Here are some other examples that you may feel called to use, especially when feelings are running high :
“What’s troubling me right now…”
“My fear is that…”
“I’d like to remind myself that”
You can also use sentence-completion for more general reminders. Such as:
“Things that bring me alive are…”
“I’m at my best when....”
“my biggest challenges...”
Be creative! I usually have 3 fixed prompts, ones I complete each morning, and at the same time I allow new prompts to bubble up.
Another option is to have a written conversation with different parts of yourself. For example, a conversation with your fearful part (remember to name it so you’re not completely identify with it), or with your higher self, or with your future self. I find these conversations extremely helpful to delve deeper into myself and gain valuable insights.
* While journaling, forget about Grammar - this isn’t an English test and no one else is reading what you’ve written. Also, be as honest as possible. There’s really no point for self-censoring with journaling.
Before you get into creating workday rituals, I recommend you plan out your own morning rituals and start them tomorrow. Plan all the specifics of your new rituals and how you're going to make sure that they happen. You might have to put a note on the refrigerator. You might have to put a glass of water out on your sink. You might want to put your running shoes at your bedroom door. Whatever you have to do to set it up, do it. Plan the whole ritual out and the timing of it.
Start tomorrow and don't deviate.
Now to the actual work...
Workday Ritual #1 - Making a list
Making a simple list with your to-dos for the day is one of the most important tools for clarity and productivity, yet it is frequently ignored. Without it, it's difficult to prioritize your day.
It takes only a few minutes to make a list. It helps to organize the scattered morning thoughts and stay focused on the most important tasks. It is also one of the best ways to not forget anything and keep track of what needs to be done. The end result: an improved feeling of being in control rather than merely being reactive.
The simplest way of making lists is to use a pen and paper. It fits a variety of environments and can be easily carried wherever you go. And of course, there is a variety of digital tools such as the new Google Tasks App (Synchronized with Google Calendar and Gmail) and Trello. Google Spreadsheets is also another option.
Now, the list you create should only include tasks you want to complete by the end of the day. It's a "Today's Tasks List" and you want to be very selective about what goes onto it.
Each and every day, set only one task to highest-priority. This is your “One Thing” so to speak and it’s the most important task for the day.
Next, set 3-5 tasks as secondary priorities; If you include too many tasks, you'll get stressed. If you include too few you'll be too relaxed.
Finally, if you have smaller, less important tasks, ones that take a fairly short amount of time to complete, write them below. They can be completed in between other tasks or when you lack energy to complete your more important tasks.
Personally, I usually only include 5-10 daily tasks that I review throughout the day. All my other tasks for the week go into a seperate Weekly list. I also keep a third list (I call it a "Someday Task List") which I review only once a week. It includes low priority tasks and projects I might want to undertake in the future that certainly do not need my full attention. Having such a list helps to alleviate the burden of remembering possible activities and allows you to put the focus on what's on your plate this week.
Experiment, and choose whatever you find convenient. The method in itself is less important. The key here is a daily list creation. You can use your mobile, your laptop, or a small notepad. You can have one list, two lists or multiple lists.
Workday Ritual #2 - Putting first things first
If you struggle to prioritize tasks, have a look at your list and ask yourself: if you focused on one thing today, just one thing, which one would give you the most leverage at the end of the day? Which task would bring you closer to what you truly want?
Make a note of it on your list and whatever happens during the day make sure you focus on this task first. Everything else is secondary. For example, if your dream is to publish a book, then the first thing you want to do after your morning ritual is to write, and to do so every day.
Now take a moment and close your eyes. If you were doing this exercise over a month, or a year, or five years, what would your life look like? What would be the end result? Make a clear picture of it in your mind…
The goal with putting first things first is to prioritize in a way that is aimed at long-term goals, at the expense of tasks that appear to be urgent (such as responding to a seemingly urgent email).
Working on low priority items just because you are used to doing so, or just because they are in front of you, leads to wasted time and further stress down the road.
More than that, when you complete high priority tasks early, you have a sense of being ahead. This can improve your work attitude and add even more motivation for future work.
If you could master this one ritual in your life, I can promise that the feeling of wasteful days would be a distant memory.
Workday Ritual #3 - Focusing on one thing at a time
How long can you focus on one task at a time before you get distracted? We live in a multitasking culture, where a busy and hurried lifestyle has become a regular way of life. Most of us juggle between tasks and allow background noise to continuously interrupt us. Emails pouring in, mobile phones ringing, people cutting in. We don't give ourselves the time for deeper, longer focus.
Multitasking offers the illusion of getting more work done faster, when in actuality the opposite is true. Every time you switch tasks there is an extra fetching time that can add up to substantial amounts.
In fact, numerous studies show that juggling between activities hurts performance and that multitaskers do significantly worse than the non-multitaskers. It has also been shown that constant multitasking takes a toll on our cognitive abilities, in particular our memory.
Instead, consider the benefits of long term sustained focus. You become immersed in the task you are faced with, build momentum, minimize distractions and have the luxury of letting go of all other thoughts about the day.
Your objective here is simply to expand your focus and get to the point where you can work on one thing for a good chunk of time. To do so, you want to measure your focus chunks (You can use a timer that has a digital countdown function). Then turn off your cell phone, your email, and anything else that might distract you, and work on the one thing proactively for a set amount of time such as 45, 60 or 90 minutes.
In this context, here's something to remember: our body operates in cycles in which our energy flows up and down. You may be familiar with the Ultradian cycle in relation to the human body sleeping pattern, but there are many other cycles as well, which naturally flicker between high and low energy.
Everything from the beating of your heart to the speed of your breathing, to your sleeping pattern works in cycles, some of the other Ultradian cycles of the body are thermoregulation, hormonal release, urination, bowel activity, and appetite.
The basic idea here is that every X amount of minutes (45, 60, or 90) you take a rest break. If you don't, you're setting yourself up for Ultradian Stress Syndrome which involves tiredness, irritability and loss of mental focus. If you ignore the body's natural need of a break for longer, it can accumulate and lead to sickness.
As Winston Churchill, who used to nap in the middle of the day during times of war, put so eloquently: "Nature had not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.''
So align your body with your natural energy cycles and take a fifteen to twenty minute break every 60 to 90 minutes. Get up, stretch, walk around and clear your mind to boost your productivity.
* Recommended book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.
Workday Ritual #4 - Aligning with Your Dreams
Think of each dream of yours as a project. As you know, organisation of your projects is key to peak performance and productive work - it saves energy, creates space, and aligns with what’s truly important.
Now, while there are many project management tools on the market, not all are created equal. The right tool truly depends on your needs and personal preferences.
Personally, I like Google spreadsheets as they are extremely flexible and simple. Another tool I like and use is Trello. With Trello, you can create your own workspaces, so-called boards. Each board can have multiple lists and each list can have multiple cards. Cards are great because you can easily color label them, assign them a due date, add checklists, attachments, comments, and so forth.
You can use Trello for your Projects (Business and Personal), Plans, Dreams, Next Actions lists, and Reference. The great thing with Trello is that you have a visual overview of all your planned activities in one place and that you can also see in what stage of the process you are. After you finish a step, you simply drag the card you created into the next step.
Also, as mentioned, you can add comments and descriptions into every card. This is extremely helpful, because Trello can be used collaboratively. Anyone who works on a certain product/idea can include some thoughts, due dates or even a whole checklist.
Workday Ritual #5 - Reclaiming your Inbox
Finally, if you’re like me, then checking emails is part of your work. The way I see it, despite the current emphasis on social media, email is still a primary communication tool. It stands the ground against other platforms and applications.
However, as you already know, email can also be a major source of distraction. Checking your inbox several times a day does not only cost a lot of time, it drains a lot of attention and energy as well. It keeps us from being focused and productive. And focus is a crucial part of the journey of reaching your goals. So we want to be mindful about these distractions.
Here are some potential ways to reduce email distraction and increase productivity:
Turn off all unimportant notifications on your smartphone, which is most of your apps
Mute your phone or put it away while you are working
Check your inbox 2 to 3 times a day MAX.
Check your emails the first time at the day after you already got something done
Unsubscribe newsletters you never seem to read
If you want to keep emails, that are not as important, but you want to read at some point in the future, set up rules and create filters in your email software. Make a file for a certain type of email and they will land there without getting into your inbox
Now, no one likes it when things mount up in their email inbox, however the reality is most people's inboxes are cluttered and constantly overflowing with tasks and requests. If you're one of those people you may want to embrace the following 4D system:
Do - if it is likely to take you less than two minutes. For example a quick email response.
Delete - If it does not involve you, or does not demand you do anything.
Delegate - if someone else can, (or needs to) take the action. You want to track it as well, and an easy way to do that is to bcc yourself when you send the e-mail. You'll get a copy immediately back into your inbox which can be filed in a special email folder called "Follow up".
Defer - if the email's task is going to take you longer than two minutes to execute, then you want to store it in another folder called "To Do".
That's it. This extremely easy to use system will allow you to defer tasks strategically, knowing that they are stored somewhere safe for future operation. By doing so you'll be able to focus on what's important rather than what's urgent.
No matter what specific goals you have, optimizing your health, productivity, and performance is key. If you can do this long term, day after day, your positive results will be compounded.
The true secret to peak performance is not about “being busy” or ticking off all the things you have on your 'to do' list; it's about managing your energy and building systems and rituals that allow you to perform at your highest level and move forward effectively towards your goals on a daily basis.
I know that not everything I've shared here is going to resonate with you. But if something I've said makes sense, I encourage you to try it out. Take what you've read and ask yourself how you can apply it in your life. Write down one action that you're going to take as a result of going through this post, one action step that you're going to start tomorrow. Or better yet, today.
Live Your Dreams!
P.S If you found this article helpful, please forward it to someone you love and click the sharing buttons below. The world is a better place when people actively follow their dreams.
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.