I had completely abandoned my personal blog, and have not been writing daily. While still working on the Zyppos blog, on other projects and my full-time career, I managed to completely neglect this. Now that the second half of the year has started, I took a little bit of stock on my resolutions and goals for the year by revisiting them and noticed that some were coming along really well, while I had dropped the ball on some – like writing this blog.
Having a solid morning routine can help you super-charge your productivity and finally complete your daily to-do list. Morning people are known to get more done, and some research suggests they are friendlier people. I have been experimenting with how to finally reclaim my mornings and starting my days earlier in order to add precious (and productive) hours to my week – and as that post was quite successful, I thought I would share how to create your own early morning routine. After all, it cannot be a coincidence that highly successful CEO’s (Disney, Twitter, Coca Cola, Nike) all have early mornings in common.
Here are the tips of what has worked for me:
Now that you’re prepared to get started, the first step is to break the day in different stages:
1. The Night Before
– Avoid electronic devices. I used to think this was a bit of a myth at best, and at worst, a big exaggeration. It turns out, it’s done wonders for me. Avoid screens (laptop, TV and even phones) for at least an hour before bed. Try to read a book (a novel works best), even if its just a single chapter to disconnect from your day. Alternatively, a long walk before day will clear your mind, helping you to fall asleep faster.
2. Waking Up
The actual challenge. Know that the first week or so, it will not be that easy. It’s OK to struggle a little, but try your hardest not to hit the snooze button or else it will quickly become a habit. The key here is to create a simple routine for the very first part of your day so you don’t have to think too much.
- Alarm goes off, and will not stop until I scan a barcode (bottle of water in my fridge, forcing me to get out of bed).
- Then an another app opens automatically (Headspace, for a quick 15-min meditation) a minute after.
- About 18 minutes after the previous alarm (so I can finish the Headspace session) another alarm goes off, and I need to scan the barcode on the coffee maker to stop it.
- This last steps opens Spotify, so I can automatically play some music to start the day, go do some exercise, or whatever is planned for that particular day.
– Avoid Hitting Snooze. Researchers say that you are likely to re-start your sleep cycle if you enter a snooze loop, and you will feel groggy longer. Also, if you hit snooze a couple of days in a row, you will automatically start hitting it every day, without even realising. A tip? Keep your alarm/phone a little far from your bed so you have to get up to turn it off.
– (Optional) Use a Sleep Tracker. Using a sleep tracker like a Jawbone UP or similar helps to set a smart alarm that wakes you up during an optimal window. It’s done wonders for me!
Having a simple routine, where you start your day the same way each day helps to cue your brain to move towards the next easy and achievable goal. After a few days/a week of repetition, your mornings will become incredibly smooth!
– Early Workouts. Try to go for at least a quick workout. Yes, even if you haven’t eaten (you can take advantage of the benefits of Intermittent Fasting – more on this soon), it’s good to have a quick workout, or at least a decent stretch session. This gets your blood flowing, activates your brain, and you are more likely to be alert in the early hours, when your decision making is at its best. I try to switch up between a run (if in a rush or if feeling a little lazier) or a gym workout.
Don’t skip your workout, regardless of how tired you are. It’s better to have a shorter exercise session than none at all. Once you get outside for your run, or get to the gym, you will be very pleased with yourself and your day will seem to glide very smoothly. I recommend exercising in the morning, as towards the evening your will-power will be close to depleted and skipping your exercise session becomes incredibly easy.
I am a fan of small steps and little victories, so I try to break down my mornings into slots, just like my waking up process. Here is what has worked for me:
The First 15 Minute Slot
- Avoid going through your email immediately. This can spiral your morning off course as you get distracted with tangents. Remember, if it was an emergency, you would have received a call; hardly anyone emails about a crisis.
- Your To-Do List. Prioritise the items on it – have a two minute mind-sweep, and plan your day when you are still fresh and concentrated on your priorities will help you have a consistently productive day. Even if towards the afternoon you veer off topic, you are more likely to have accomplished more by then, and getting back on track is much easier.
- How can I add value today?
- What can I make better?
- What am I grateful for today?
I have taken this a step further, and I use The Five Minute Journal, and I cannot recommend it enough!
The Second 15 Minute Slot
Tackle your most important issues. Look at your to-do list and focus on the two most important items only, even if they seem slightly more overwhelming. This way, even if you have a tough day, you can look back and you will feel like you accomplished enough.
The Third 15 Minute Slot
Work on your passion project or your ‘idea on the side’. You do have a side project, right? If not, start one right now! Having a creative side – and this doesn’t only mean art, it can mean something that makes you step outside of your comfort zone – helps you stay engaged and relaxed throughout the day and will help you perform better at work.
I am a fan of early mornings. They set the tone for the rest of the day and help me accomplish a lot more. In the morning you can accomplish bigger tasks and important decisions before you run out of ‘credits’.
Try it out for a month, you might surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish!
Lately I have been experimenting with early mornings. I normally wake up at what’s considered a normal, or even early time, however, I wanted to see what I could accomplish by waking up earlier and adding extra time to my days. I constantly see around the web so many articles about how successful people wake up early. Would my productivity go up? Would I just be grumpy and sleepy? I had to find out.
There are very few things I hate more than rushing places, feeling I might be late. Starting my days earlier has been great, I feel like I have reclaimed my days and they belong to me again, not my clock. I also think that an early starts sets the tone for the day – I am more productive and accomplish more – and better!
I consider myself a fairly natural early riser, being able to wake up without an alarm by about 7am most days. So for this experiment I decided to push things a little, and change things up by trying to wake up by about 5:30am during the week and about 730~8am during the weekends. Essentially, I wanted to add about 2 hours to the early part of my days.
[heading2 class=”” style=”” title=”Finding The Extra Hours”]I’ve learned that waking up early starts the previous night. If I want to wake up earlier, I have to sleep earlier to get the same amount of sleep and really to make the most of those extra hours. There would be no point with the experiment if I were to wake up at 5:30, if I would be getting coinsiderably less sleep. That would lead to me being grumpy, not performing as well and just ruining it all. After tracking my sleep patterns with a Jawbone UP for a couple of years, I know roughly how much sleep I need.
Also, I recently read a guideline that breaks down the amount of time people need:
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
So, for me, the bare minimum is about 6 hours, with 7 being my ‘minimum sweet spot’
- Under 5 hours. Horrible. Hate it. That’s that.
- Under 6 hours. I can go for a couple of days, but my mood and mental performance takes a hit very quickly.
- About 7 hours. Minimum to be on the ‘sweet spot’, where I can last most of the day at a good level, where I dont think my mood is affected, and I feel fresh in the morning.
- About 8 hours. Great, but hard to maintain, especially with demanding days
- Over 9 hours. Not great, I tend to wake up dazed and confused, and it takes me a while to clear the ‘fog’
- Monday: Meditate for 15 mins. Set weekly goals and big tasks for each day. Write.
- Tuesday: Gym. Write.
- Wednesday: Run. Meditate for 15 minutes. Take calls with the team abroad.
- Thursday: Gym. Take calls with the team abroad.
- Friday: Short workout (varies between gym or shorter run). Meditate for 15 minutes. Recap the week, seeing what was good, what could have been better. This also helps me have the rest of Friday to catch up and make up for what could have been improved, finishing the week in a good note.
- Weekends: This has been the hardest to maintain due to HK’s active nightlife. Starting about 7:30 to 8:am, I try to mediate then go for a hike. Mornings then continue with a book, a magazine (normally Time), or the newspaper, until about lunchtime, where I try to be a little more sociable.
I am a firm believer everyone should always have a side project – and I would go further and say even more than one is a great idea. Even though making a side project successful can be hard, it can be hugely beneficial over the alternative: not having one.
Start a side project today – it can be anything! This is why you should always have a Side Project.
At any given time, I have a side project running. It can be a new idea for a blog on bucket lists (more on this soon), trying to help start-ups expand (like masblu in Asia) or a full-fledged website like Zyppos.
Zyppos started as a side project some time ago, and it was born from a problem I had, on top of my want to build something that would help people, solve a problem – perhaps make a small income even. But most of all, it was my want to build something tangible and see my efforts turned into something real. When you have a side project you are not just starting work on an idea, you are starting so much more.
STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN
On your day job or full-time employment you have your defined role and titles – marketer, doctor, lawyer, designer, engineer, etc – and you are likely to stay within the realm of that function. Not many firms have an internal entrepreneurial culture that encourages people to go above and beyond their role, learning other skills unrelated to their title or basic job description. When you start a side project you do yourself a favour, in more than one way.
With your side project you quickly find holes in your skill set, and you are forced to fill (many) gaps along the way. You also have to play many different roles and wear all kinds of different hats.
Take Zyppos for example. During the development, as a person with a marketing background, I’ve had to step outside my area of expertise and work with developers, picking up a number of technical skills along the way. The developers in the team have learned about design and user experience. The designers have learned about front end development and digital marketing. Everyone has more than one role and everyone learns great new skills.
As Zyppos turned into something tangible, I have had to work with countless different areas like accounting, legal, marketing, development, research, focus groups and many more. I have found myself out of my depth in endless situations – but I tend to also find myself getting out of the deep end just fine. Often, in these situations where I have very little experience, I’ve wonder if I am doing the right thing and “impostor syndrome” creeps in. However, it turns out that trying is the best alternative. You tend to be just fine in the end, and you might pick up a thing or two along the way.
Sometimes you might turn out to be right. Sometimes you won’t – but in those instances you will definitely learn a lesson, and how not to do something, so you are more likely to get it right the next time. Edison said it best:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”– Thomas A. Edison
A side project is your blank canvas to draw anything you like. It’s your tabula rasa to write that ‘song’ that’s been stuck in your head all this time. With a side project you get to test ideas, regardless of how unfeasible, crazy, big or small they might be. With a side project you get to push your boundaries, discover your limits and see what you’re made of.
When you start working on any side project you soon discover that really there are no barriers, there are no limits, and there are no bosses or corporate bureaucracy to slow you down.
The only limit with your side project? Whatever you decide.
TEST THE WATERS
A side project can be anything you like, anything you’ve been curious about, or anything you want to get really good at. A few examples:
- Write a book
- Learn to code
- Learn photography
- Take a lesson
- Learn an instrument
- Write a blog on any given topic
- Sell something online
….and many, many, many more
One of the many benefits about starting a side project is that you get to start something from the beginning, taking little steps. A lot of people have an innate entrepreneurial drive, as most people want to create and make a difference. With a side project, you get to test the waters without having to take a full plunge.
Once you get started, you soon discover that your natural curiosity and need for personal growth starts getting satisfied, while developing a new set of skills. Also, one of the many benefits of a side project is that it allows you to figure out a path you might have been keen to explore. You may enjoy your job and your side project, its ok! But a side project might also help you realise a different calling. How will you know, if you don’t try it?
A side project is meant to be an outlet that encourages curiosity, creativity and self improvement. In the end of the day, it can be seen as a training ground. It’s ok to have fun with it, you are meant to!
START SOMETHING – ANYTHING – RIGHT NOW!
After working on side projects I have a new understanding of other people’s skills and roles. But more importantly, I get to satisfy my endless curiosity and continue my personal development.
I urge you to start your side project. Right now! The ultimate goal does not have to be trying to create the next Google, write the next Iliad, paint the next Guernica. The motivation doesn’t need to be making a billion dollars. There are no drawbacks – you might have less free time, but as you use your time on creating something of your own, your sense of pride will swell. When you start your side project, whatever it may be, you are taking a step at becoming more efficient, healthier and happier.
Go do it, start your side project today. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.