History’s greatest thinkers and achievers have one thing in common; they are creatures of habit. Do the same thing day in day out, and it becomes second nature; you no longer have to think about it, it just comes naturally. Having a set routine is what allows you to perform at your peak.
After reading millions of words on productivity, one thing that really stands out for me is the role habit plays in delivering on your objectives. Mapping out every minute in your calendar may seem like overkill, but it frees your mind to focus on what’s important. If you don’t need to think about what you should be doing at any given minute, you’ll have freed up the mental capacity to fully focus on the task in hand. It’s worked for Presidents and Prime Ministers, after all.
I’ve spent ages tweaking my routine. It’s a Monday to Friday thing; I like to keep my weekends pretty freeform and enjoy the time I get to chill out with my wife, but here’s what it looks like at the moment.
I used to be lazy. I’d get up as late as possible, have a shower, drink a cup of coffee and dash out the house in order to make it to the office on time. It was a hangover from my schooldays when I’d be late for registration on an almost daily basis. Eventually, though, I realised the power of a productive morning routine.
By using those early hours to plan your day, it puts you in control. Rather than spending the day chasing your tail like the rabbit in Alice In Wonderland, you can get into the habit of being proactive, rather than reactive, and take ownership of what you need to get done.
Here’s what my morning routine looks like:
- Have a shower
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Watch the news headlines
- Drink a large glass of water
- Review my calendar
- Review my life plan and goals
- Review my next action list
- Decide on three daily success outcomes
- Read about personal development
- Write an article or blog post
I’m lucky that I live within (relatively) easy walking distance of my office, but far enough to use the journey for something constructive. I load my smartphone with podcasts and audiobooks so I’m sharpening the saw every morning.
At the Office
Borrowing an idea from Ron Friedman, when I get to the office I think to myself “the day is over and I’m leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?” Taking the time to focus on what I want to get out of my workday helps me decide what’s important.
I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule; that 80% of our successes come from 20% of our efforts. By actively focusing on my success outcomes for the day, I’m better prepared to deliver that 80%. The last thing I want when I leave the office is that all-too-familiar feeling that I’ve worked my backside off and accomplished nothing. Much better to feel like I’ve breezed easily through some of my biggest goals.
Taking a leaf out of Tumblr founder David Karp‘s book, the next thing I do is check my inbox. I don’t process everything (I save that for later in the day) but I scan through my new mail to see if there’s anything that needs my urgent attention. I’ve followed Scott Hanselman‘s advice and use filters for my boss, my team and my biggest clients so I always know if I need to pick something up quickly.
I then make sure I’m connecting with my team and our customers. As Head of Support, I want to make sure everyone who interacts with my team are getting the service they expect; so I spend half-an-hour reviewing and responding to support tickets, sending emails and following up any outstanding pieces of work. I also quickly catch up with each member of my team to make sure there aren’t any issues I need to be aware of.
At lunchtime, I get out of the office. Taking a half-hour walk gives me the perfect opportunity to recharge and focus on what I’ve achieved so far. It also gives me time away from my desk to work out what I need to focus on for the afternoon. When I get back to the office, I’m re-invigorated and ready to get on with the rest of the day.
To make sure I’m fully focused, before I start on any of my afternoon tasks I note down my successes and challenges from the morning and what I want to get done in the afternoon. I then process my inbox and review my calendar, moving any items in my schedule that I need to.
If my morning has gone to plan, my most important tasks are already out the way. In the afternoon, then, I work my way through the rest of my todo list, completing as many actions as I can. For the last half hour of the day, though, I take time out to review what I’ve managed to get done.
I reflect on my day and decide if my time in the office has been as successful as I’d hoped. If not, I make a note of what I need to do better tomorrow to ensure I have a more productive day. I then clear my inbox to zero ready for the next morning, complete any low priority tasks that I’ve got time for then make sure I leave the office on time.
By the time I get home, my workday is well and truly done. Once I’ve had my dinner, I’ll put my phone on “do not disturb” and make sure I spend as much quality time as possible with my wife. The only people who are able to reach me are those on my “family” list in my contacts.
Most nights we’ll chill out in front of a movie, then go to bed at a reasonable hour ready to start again, fully refreshed, the next day.
What do you think? Do you have daily routine that helps you stay productive? Let me know about it in the comments.