Book Chapter - Living and Working Intentionally (Issue #8)
We are what we repeatedly do
This is a draft of chapter 10 from the book I’m writing this year, Building the Invincible You. I’ve published previous chapters in my other newsletter, Invincible Career.
In the book, I share my strategies and methods for reclaiming your power in your work and life, your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could, and the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Plans are valuable. But without execution, your plans will be useless.
I interviewed someone for my podcast once who felt like he had no choice but to change his life to achieve his significant goal of changing careers. His job involved a great deal of physical labor, which was destroying his body and causing increasing pain that would soon prevent him from being able to make a living.
His name is Sam Sycamore and you can hear his story in his own words if you check out Issue #291 of my Invincible Career newsletter and podcast. He pivoted from being a landscape carpenter to a successful web developer in less than a year!
Sam also emphasized the value of community and putting yourself out there. For example, he’s built a sizable following on Twitter! But, without those daily habits, who knows where Sam would be today?
Our brain loves habits. They automate behaviors and reactions, which reduces cognitive load and conserves your brain energy for other activities. If everything you did every day required intense focus and cognitive energy, you could never move beyond those tasks to engage in more complex tasks and achieve greater goals.
You can take advantage of this wonderful system to create new habits that will help you make steady progress toward your most important goals. In the previous chapter, you created plans for the next few months. Now, break those plans down into daily habits that will ensure your inevitable success.
I had to apply this very strategy to write this book. For years, I struggled with making progress. Publishing this book was on my to-do list, and I had a fuzzy goal in mind, but I never forced myself to turn writing it into a consistent habit. I would only write when I “felt inspired.”
Well, let me tell you something. If you only do something when you feel inspired, your odds of success are pretty low. Life gets in the way. We often feel tired and overwhelmed, so the last thing we want to do is make more work for ourselves.
However, when I finally created a habit of writing a little every day and publishing a chapter every two weeks, the magic of habits kicked in. And now, this book is in your hands!
So, let’s make some of this same magic happen for you. Let’s figure out what your daily habits need to be to make steady progress and achieve your life goals.
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The author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, is a proponent of habits over goals and plans. He says, “Commit to a process, not a goal.” Daily habits are indeed part of the process when you want to change your life.
Personally, I do like setting goals as a “flag on the horizon” to help you chart your direction and track your progress. But, your odds of success improve when you create a system and a daily process of putting in the work.
“Everything I write about — from procrastination and productivity to strength and nutrition — starts with better habits. When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life.”
— James Clear
In his book, he shares the powerful example that if you get just 1% better at something each day, you’ll end up with results that are almost 37 times better in one year. Making consistent, slight improvements through your daily habits compound into massive change over time. Tiny changes make a big difference!
His habit loop framework has four steps:
If you want to transform your habits to add good ones and eliminate bad ones, you can apply his “Four Laws of Behavior Change.” The following table summarizes this strategy.
Atomic Habits is an excellent book and I highly recommend that you check it out (that’s my affiliate link). I’ve only scratched the surface of his strategies for building new habits here. But, I hope this gives you some ideas for how you can transform your daily activities to make more time for the work you need to do to make progress in your plans.
What consistent habits will help you achieve your goals? What are the actions that you can take each day — no matter how small — that will bring you closer and closer to what you wish to achieve?
Some examples to give you a sense of how habits come into play:
If you have a fitness goal, you’ll want to create a daily habit of exercise (e.g., walking for 60 minutes every evening).
If your goal is to write a book, you’ll want to stick to a daily habit of writing at least a specific number of words (e.g., Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day).
If your goal is to give a talk in front of an audience, you’ll want to establish a daily habit of writing your material, editing the presentation, and rehearsing (e.g., practice your 30-minute talk every afternoon).
If your goal is to find a new job, you need a daily habit of connecting with at least one person in your extended network (e.g., letting trusted people know what you’re looking for in your next career move).
If your goal is to get promoted, make a daily habit of documenting your project successes, key wins, and other information to build your case (e.g., save quotes from emails when someone praises your contributions).
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
We are defined by how we live our daily lives. We become a reflection of our daily habits. If you do something every day, you become that thing even if no one else “grants” you that label or title. For example:
If you paint every day, you are a painter, even if no other person sees your work. You don’t need to sell your work to claim that you’re an artist.
You can become a writer through the daily habit of writing. You do not have to wait until you are a published author to claim that you are one.
You can become an athlete through the daily habit of exercise. You don’t have to participate on the field or win a competition to claim that you’re an athlete.
You can become an outstanding leader through the daily habit of excellent leadership practices. You don’t need a formal title from a company. Authentic leadership — the kind that inspires people to follow you — is earned through your consistent behavior, actions, and habits. Many people are granted leadership titles, yet they are not great leaders.
If you want to learn more about habit formation strategies, you may also be interested in B. J. Fogg’s research at Stanford University. More information about his book Tiny Habits - The Small Changes That Change Everything is available here.
His “Fogg Behavior Model” looks like this: B=MAP
He explains the model as “Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment.” Much like James Clear’s model, this is something you can use to understand and manage your own habits.
You will make progress one day at a time. Breaking your goal down into bite-sized daily steps (i.e., new tiny habits) will help you accomplish this goal that matters so much to you.
Identify your daily habits
First, a word of warning. It won’t always be fun to practice the same habits day after day. It can often feel like a monotonous grind. But that’s how you improve and make progress.
“Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.”
— Cal Newport
I’ve certainly experienced this with my writing habits. I often have weeks when I feel like I’m trudging through quicksand to grind through a chapter. That happened to me last month.
This has also happened to me with my exercise and weightlifting. I don’t make progress on my lifts and build strength by jumping around from fun exercise to fun exercise. For the most part, I’ve been doing the same three lifts day after day and week after week for over 12 years.
No one said that achieving great things would be easy. Chasing your dreams and reaching your most important life goals won’t always be fun. But, if you really want to live an invincible life that few rarely achieve, it’s worth putting in the hard work.
As you look at your daily commitments and think about the habits you’d like to add, don’t be afraid to “pay yourself first” and allocate time to what you want and need to accomplish. You deserve your precious and finite time more than anyone else (e.g., your employer, coworkers, friends, etc). No, really. You do! Only you have to live with you for the rest of your life and experience the daily life you’re creating. Why not make it as good as it can be?
What do your daily habits need to be to make steady progress on the plans you created? What can you reasonably add to your days?
Anything that happens less often than daily isn’t really a habit. So, for now, don’t bother with identifying tasks that occur less frequently than that.
Now, let’s dive into some strategies for weaving your new habits into the routine of your day. I have a better suggestion than relying on sticky notes or a to-do list.
Your calendar is your ally
“We only have so much energy for our work, for our relationships, for ourselves. A smart person understands this and guards it carefully. Meanwhile, idiots focus on marginal productivity hacks and gains while they leak out energy each passing day.”
— Ryan Holiday
Nothing slows you down more than spreading your attention and energy too thin. We all think that we can multitask and accomplish more in less time. It makes us feel good to be so productive.
But human beings fail at successfully dividing our attention. Not only are we poor multi-taskers, but we also get stuck in a rut of doing and being busy without really thinking about the “why.”
A lack of clear purpose, vague goals, and diffusion of effort will either lead to rapid progress towards a meaningless destination or a slower march towards a goal that truly matters. Defending your precious time, energy, and resources is only the first step. The next critical step is to take your valuable pool of resources and tightly focus them on accomplishing a singular aim.
However, it will be difficult to reclaim your time if you don’t track how you spend it. We often think that we know how we use our time every day. But, the details surprise many people when they keep a time journal.
Track everything for at least a week or two:
Morning rituals (e.g., shower, breakfast, watching the news)
How you spend all of your time at work
How often you browse the web, news, YouTube, etc.
Breaks and recreation
Lunch and dinner
Evening activities (e.g., reading, Netflix, social media)
Many of us work and play on our digital devices, and some tools can help with this time tracking. iOS “Screen Time” and Android’s “Digital Wellbeing” provide useful reports of how much time you’re spending on your mobile devices. You can see the daily average, plus a history of your daily and weekly trends.
You can also review the time spent by category (e.g., social networking, productivity, creativity) and by specific apps (e.g., Instagram, Slack, Twitter). It might be eye-opening for you.
I know I spend too much time on Instagram, for example. Checking the report each week reminds me to dial it down.
Once you know how you are spending the 24 hours of your day, you can then decide the best ways to allocate that time. Invest it in things that are important to you. Take time back from activities that don’t deserve it. Use your calendar to dedicate time and protect it for the things that matter.
It requires saying “No” to other people. But, it also requires saying no to yourself and letting some things go. Some of your lower-priority projects have to be shelved, no matter how much you love them.
I use appointments on my daily calendar to maintain focus. I block off time on my schedule for the things that I know I need to be productive. That includes writing, regular exercise, breaks to recharge, time in nature, dinner with my family, and a reasonable amount of sleep.
To-do lists might work for you, but they don’t work for me. They don’t work for many people. Adding items to a list doesn’t set you up for success. Those lists just grow larger and larger every day. I have a few massive running lists in Evernote with some items that date back over 10 years!
I often forget to review the list since it’s not in my face. Then, when I do, I get overwhelmed and stressed about how much there is to do.
A few years ago, I gave up on the futile activity of to-do lists and tapped into the power of using my calendar. Instead of trying to squeeze more hours into the day to start new habits, I repurposed time on my calendar.
Habits, tasks, and activities won't happen without a time budget. You can't magically get additional things done if your day is full of work and other obligations.
Ruthlessly examine your daily calendar and decide what you need to eliminate or reduce to make time for your new habits. For example:
Replace an hour of Netflix with an hour of reading, research, and planning.
Replace 30 minutes of scrolling social media in the morning with 30 minutes of writing.
Replace an hour of browsing YouTube and the web with an hour of exercise.
In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport (my affiliate link), he describes how valuable, meaningful, and rare it is to find the time you need to focus and work deeply. He defines Deep Work as:
“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to the limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
However, we all can’t disappear into the woods like Henry David Thoreau, avoid humanity, and focus 100% on our life’s work. We need to weave our time for deep work into our other commitments. But I’m sure you’ve already discovered that meaningful deep work can’t be accomplished in 30 minutes or even one-hour appointments on your calendar.
It takes time to block out distractions, get back into a task, and flow into a productive working state. If you’re lucky, you may slip into a moment of “flow state” where your work feels almost effortless.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
Complete concentration on the task.
Clarity of goals and reward in mind, and immediate feedback.
Transformation of time (the speeding up or slowing down of time).
The experience is intrinsically rewarding, as an end itself.
Effortlessness and ease.
There is a balance between challenge and skills.
Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination.
There is a feeling of control over the task.
However, research has found that it takes about 30 minutes to get back on track after an interruption. We also experience significantly higher stress, frustration, and pressure when someone interrupts us while we’re trying to perform a task. No wonder we feel like we never get caught up with our work!
Our modern working lives are full of constant interruptions. If you’re in a workplace, someone frequently stops by your desk. At home, we face a myriad of distractions if we don’t isolate ourselves. Finally, our smartphones bombard us with tempting and annoying app notifications, alerts, and audio signals tugging at our attention.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with how I schedule time for my productive work. I used to squeeze tasks in between meetings, first thing in the morning, or later in the evening. But, it was typically in one-hour appointments. Unfortunately, that’s barely enough time to get into the task, ramp up, and jump into the next meeting or commitment.
It was only after I shifted to the strategies of time-blocking and day-theming (as Jack Dorsey does) that I could make significant progress on my larger and more meaningful tasks. Writing this book is one example. When I carved out an entire day to focus on writing, it started coming together. Before that, I struggled for years to make progress.
I also use time-blocking to ensure that I have dedicated calendar time for my most important activities. Otherwise, urgent little things creep in and steal away my days.
For example, I set up recurring daily time blocks for:
Reading and writing
Marketing activities on social media, LinkedIn, etc.
Time with my clients
Time with my family
Capturing thoughts every evening
Planning the next day
Now, before you think I’m a micromanaging freak, I don’t schedule every single hour of every day. I do have flexibility on the weekends and here and there throughout the week. But, I do protect time for the tasks that help me achieve my goals and live a better life.
“Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40 hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
— Cal Newport
If you want to live an invincible life, you need to aggressively protect and manage your time, attention, and energy as your most precious resources.
Eliminate energy vampires (e.g., people that drag you down).
Delegate tasks and activities that you don’t want to do (or should not be doing).
Don't let other people force themselves into your working moments or life (e.g., activate “do not disturb” on your phone, let calls go to voicemail, respond to messages in batches).
What habits do you want to add to your daily schedule?
This time-blocking strategy can help you reclaim your time and freedom to focus on what matters the most to you. You will want to block time for some daily recurring tasks. But, you can schedule other activities less frequently.
Weekly schedules and goals
Some activities don’t need to become daily habits, but they are still important an important part of your plans. For example, I set up weekly time blocks for:
Working on my podcast.
Time with my community.
Strategically planning and working on my businesses.
Recharging my batteries with a hike in the forest.
What habits do you need to make part of your weekly schedule?
Eliminate bad habits and wasted time
“Tell me how you use your spare time, and how you spend your money, and I will tell you where and what you will be in ten years from now.”
— Napoleon Hill
Establishing new good habits is insufficient if existing bad habits risk your long-term success. You won’t make the progress to reach your goals if you take one step forward and two steps back every day.
As we’ve all experienced, it is incredibly challenging if to eliminate bad habits. This is especially true if these habits have become ingrained over several years (e.g., eating snacks every evening as you watch your favorite shows).
Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book that can help you understand the psychology of habits, The Power of Habit - Why we do what we do in life and business (my affiliate link). He provides insights into habit formation and strategies for breaking the cycle.
He shares a three-step habit loop that governs most of the habits we engage in daily. You’ll notice similarities with the Fogg and Clear models I mentioned earlier.
Some sort of internal or external cue triggers our brain to go into habit mode and automatically selects the habit to use (e.g., feeling bored and a little hungry). We then engage in a physical, mental, or emotional routine (e.g., Walking to the kitchen to open a bag of chips). Finally, we receive our reward, which often reinforces the habit (e.g., the salty chips taste good and satisfy hunger). With enough repetition, cravings and anticipation occur.
Breaking bad habits requires re-wiring this loop. Examine your cues so you recognize what the trigger events are. Explore the rewards to understand what you’re really seeking and receiving. Then, look at the routine and wire a better routine into the middle the next time you react to a cue and want a reward.
Ruthlessly purge low-value activities from your life. If you want more and want to become more, something has to go to make room for the work you need to do to achieve your goals. According to Nielsen, adults in the U.S. spend an average of 11 hours and 27 minutes per day consuming digital media. GlobalWebIndex’s report shows that an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes per day is spent on social networks and messaging.
Sure, schedule fun and relaxation. But, perhaps make them better for you (e.g., reading, learning, time in nature, connecting with a friend, meditation, creating art). Or, at least set a timer and time-bound them (e.g., 20 mins of TikTok or YouTube).
What bad habits and time-wasters do you want to eliminate or reduce? Think about what triggers each of these habits and the reward you receive. How can you re-wire the loop to associate the trigger with a better habit and reward yourself in a better way?
Managing your habits and scheduling how you want to spend your days will enable you to make time for the new daily tasks you will need to execute your plans. But I’ve also learned that the start and end of your day will have a significant impact on your success.
As I’m sure you’ve experienced, how your morning begins can either start things off on the right foot or have negative ripple effects that sour the rest of the day. Obviously, you can’t control everything. You might burn your toast or have an argument with your significant other. But you can create a routine that increases your likelihood of having an invincible morning.
Ryan Holiday is a bestselling author who has sold millions of copies of his books. How does he make time to write and publish so much? Well, he shared his morning routine that ensures he focuses on what’s most important to him:
Wake up around 6 AM.
3 mile walk with the kids.
Journal for 15 minutes.
Write for 3 hours.
Don’t eat before 10 AM.
Don’t touch the phone for the first hour awake.
Tim Ferriss has interviewed hundreds of successful people for his books on self-improvement and personal optimization. You notice common themes such as getting up early, avoiding your phone, journaling, mediation, and exercise.
The key takeaway is that you need to own your mornings and how you start them. You do what works best for you and don’t let someone else or some device intrude and derail your day.
“If you win the morning, you win the day.”
— Tim Ferriss
I'm a fan of morning journaling. I harness my creativity before the tasks of the workday strip it away. Sometimes, I sketch to let my artistic side run wild for a few minutes before I begin work.
I like to capture random thoughts and feelings. But, I also jot down ideas for my business, new articles, and ways to help my clients. It helps me focus my day as I jot down my goals and what I want to accomplish.
This is my ideal morning routine:
I wake up at 6:30 AM every day using the Sleep | Wake Up feature on my iPhone.
I glance at my calendar to double-check when my first meeting will be, and then I put my phone away.
I make coffee, but I eat nothing (I’m on an intermittent fasting schedule from 8 PM to noon the next day).
I do not check email, messages, texts, or social media.
I enjoy my coffee, journal, and write for 30-60 minutes.
I put my paper notebook away, check and respond to messages, and post to my communities, social media, LinkedIn, etc.
I get changed, grab my water bottle, and lift weights for 60-90 minutes (Note: exercise is so important that I’ll go into more detail about it in the next chapter).
I shower and get dressed for the day.
I sit down with my laptop and get back to work.
What activities do you need to create your own Invincible Morning routine?
"I can't stop my mind from racing. A million thoughts run through my head when I try to go to bed. I think of all the tasks I need to complete and all the problems I want to solve. I worry about the people I love and, before I know it, it's 2 AM and I'm still wide awake."
— Anonymous friend
If that sounds like you, you know you can't keep burning the candle at both ends for too long. Lack of sleep is so crushing. You can't think straight at work, you drowse off during your commute, and your health suffers.
Now that many of us are working from home, you may have heard of people who need a specific ritual that signals it's time to "go to work." They may only have to walk a few steps to their home office or workspace, but they need that psychological boundary and mental shift to switch modes from life to work.
Here are a few rituals that I’ve read about:
One person wraps up their morning rituals and fills their special “work mug” with coffee. That's the cue that it's time to “go to work.”
Another person showers, gets dressed for work, finishes breakfast, walks out the front door of their home, and re-enters through a different entrance to step into their home office.
A friend of mine built a home office shed in the backyard so they can literally separate work from their personal life in their home.
Believe it or not, another person gets in their car, drives around the block, and returns home to start the workday.
Yes, morning rituals are essential, and many of us rely on them to start our day and go to work. But, we kind of drop the ball on the other end of the work-life equation. We don't create or follow a consistent evening ritual. Instead, we let our work bleed into our nights, and then we wonder why we can't sleep and our mornings become so unpleasant.
Since the release of the first iPhone almost 15 years ago, too many of us have gotten into a bad habit of endlessly scrolling our email, messages, socials, etc., in bed. How many of us? 90% of Americans have reported using a technological device in the hour before bed.
My friends, this does not make for an evening of restful slumber. It also sets us up for a rough start the next day.
Why is it so bad? For one thing, our devices emit "blue light," which suppresses our body's release of melatonin (a hormone that makes us feel drowsy). Blue light may be helpful during the day, but it becomes a problem at night when we're trying to fall asleep.
Also, when we keep reading work emails and messages, we stress about things that we can't deal with right now. I've learned this, and I think you know it, too: You could literally work 24x7 and never be “caught up.”
When we keep scrolling on Twitter, Facebook, and the news, it gives us incredible anxiety about world events that are out of our control. For example, I was up late the other evening and read the breaking news about a mass shooting in Sacramento, California. It was a tragedy, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it that night.
Finally, when we try to work right up to the last minute before falling asleep, it doesn't provide closure to our day. We don't give ourselves enough time to wrap things up, decompress a little, and shift our minds into relaxation mode. And you do need time for rest and relaxation to be your most creative, productive, and balanced.
Cal Newport talks about the need for a “shutdown ritual” at the end of the day, so you don't leave your mind spinning with that feeling of unfinished work.
“…this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it's captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.”
I know I need this, too. I get stressed when I feel like I'm going to forget to add a new task to my calendar, lose an important idea overnight while I sleep, or not be prepared for a meeting in the morning. So, a few years ago, I created the evening ritual that I described below to close out my day, calm my mind, and sleep better.
Create a new evening ritual
Basically, these evening habits of working too late and staring at your phone aren't doing you any favors. So, I want to share an evening routine that may help you make the most of every day and start your next morning with clarity. It also will help you sleep better every evening.
My evening reflections are a bit different from my morning journaling. I find that I'm less creative at the end of the day. I'm a little tired after being focused on work all day, and my mind feels drained.
So, instead of trying to come up with wild new ideas, I reflect on my day. You can think of this as a mini version of a post-mortem exercise that you might use for one of your work projects.
Thinking back on your day helps you evaluate things and make improvements in the future. If you wait days, weeks, or months to reflect on how things are going at work - or in your life - the details become fuzzy, and it's not as effective.
Here are some sample questions to ask yourself. Use a paper notebook to write your answers to avoid that blue light problem. This exercise doesn't have to take a lot of time. I know you have a busy life, so try doing it for about 15 minutes.
What went well today? Why do you think it went well?
What did you enjoy doing and why?
What didn't go well? What went wrong and why?
How could you be more effective and successful next time?
What did you learn today?
Did you accomplish everything you wanted? If not, why?
What do you want to do differently tomorrow?
As you do this for a few weeks, you will probably discover that the act of writing is also cathartic. Research has found that writing can help you process traumatic, stressful, or emotional events, which improves your physical and psychological well-being.
I'm sure you've experienced that feeling of a million ideas, issues, and problems swirling around in your brain. I know many people who have trouble falling asleep at night because their mind is racing.
The simple act of capturing those thoughts in a paper notebook helps me fall asleep more quickly in the evening. I keep a small one on my nightstand for this purpose. When I have a creative idea or a thought about how to solve a problem, I scribble it in that notebook before my head hits the pillow.
I know I can’t make more progress or solve problems at bedtime. I know I need to sleep. But, I can’t relax until I write those issues down to remember to deal with them in the morning.
So, before you crawl into bed, plan your next day. What is the most important thing you want to accomplish? Put it at the top of the list.
Sure, you can have other tasks and appointments. But if you complete that one critical task tomorrow, you'll feel accomplished. If you finish even more items on your list, you'll feel like a productivity machine.
Anticipate the activities of the next day. I always want to ensure that I haven't overlooked an early morning meeting. I also want a sense of what tomorrow will be like and how I'll weave my other tasks and activities around the scheduled discussions (e.g., time for exercise).
Scan your calendar to ensure you feel ready for the day. You can even engage in a quick visualization exercise and picture yourself accomplishing various tasks (e.g., presenting to your boss). Block off time (i.e., private appointments with yourself) if you know you'll need some time to prepare before some of your meetings.
When you have a sense of who you'll be meeting and what you'll be doing, your unconscious mind can prepare. It's kind of surprising, but I've found that priming myself for tomorrow's events must somehow allow my brain to process things while I'm sleeping.
I often wake up and immediately have a creative solution to a problem I thought about the night before. That's why I love to grab my journal first thing in the morning to capture those ideas before getting distracted.
Communicate with your future self. Think of this as a low-budget “time machine” that lets you send a message to the “you” of tomorrow morning. What do you want to share with yourself?
At the end of the day, capture where your thoughts are to enable a successful handoff to yourself tomorrow. It will help you pick up where you stopped instead of saying, “What in the heck was I thinking here?”
I do this when I'm writing articles, stories, and my book. I'll quickly scribble a few bullet points that capture the essence of what I'm thinking and how I'll take those ideas and jump back into writing the next day.
I can't think of the author's name right now, but they had an interesting strategy for avoiding writer's block. Even when they knew exactly how they wanted to end the chapter they were currently writing, they wouldn't finish it if the day was almost over. Instead, they'd write a few notes about what they had in mind and go to bed.
The next morning, they didn't have to waste any time thinking about what to write or how to get started. They knew exactly what they had envisioned and how they would end the chapter they were in the middle of writing the previous day. They could dive right into things.
So, you can do the same thing with your work. Leave things in a good state the night before, with you knowing exactly what you want to do next. Make a few notes to communicate that vision to your future self, go to sleep, and attack it again when you're fresh in the morning.
Finally, instead of staring at your phone in bed or looking at a TV screen, open a good book. We all know that we should probably read more, but we struggle to find time to do it.
I was a voracious reader when I was younger. I would finish many books every week. Sometimes, I would read a book a day.
But, as I grew older, life got in the way of my reading hobby. I was so busy with textbooks during college and graduate school that I didn't have time to read for pleasure. Later, when I was in the middle of my career, I felt like I should only read books on professional development, leadership, and business.
Only in the last few years have I started reading for pleasure again. For example, I no longer feel guilty about reading fiction for fun.
Whatever you prefer (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, humor, biographies, mysteries), try reading to calm your mind as a bedtime ritual. As much as we love Netflix and scrolling social media on our phones, those activities aren't conducive to a good night's sleep.
My wife and I got into a bad habit of watching a show on Netflix every evening in bed. It felt like a comforting ritual, but we noticed we weren't sleeping very well. We'd wake up several times during the night. Sometimes we'd wake up early (e.g., 4-5 AM) and couldn't fall back asleep.
For the past few weeks, we've set Netflix aside in favor of reading in bed for 30-60 minutes. I've noticed that I get much sleepier and have no problem dropping off quickly into slumberland.
Test this ritual with yourself
I know. It can feel rigid to create bedtime rituals, morning rituals, work rituals, etc. It's fun to be spontaneous, wild, and free!
Some of us are creatures of habit and find it centering and calming to create and follow rituals (yes, guilty as charged). I've always enjoyed personal optimization and experimenting with ways to be more effective, productive, and healthier. But, some folks find it challenging to create new habits and stifling to follow them.
However, if you're discovering that being wild and free is messing with your productivity, sleep, and health, it might be time to test a better routine.
For the next few weeks, try these five activities of reflecting, planning, anticipating, communicating, and reading. You won't see the benefits right away in a day or two, so give it some time and give it a chance.
Habits make change easier
Your daily tasks and habits will make it easier to execute your plan and make progress toward your goals. It feels good to be productive, of course. But you risk burning out if you try to become a “productivity machine” that never takes a break or makes time for fun.
As they say, life is about the journey, not the destination. So, in the next chapter, I want to talk about how you can invest in yourself and take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health along the way.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Larry Cornett received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Rice University. He spent decades in the Silicon Valley tech industry as a designer, Design leader, Product executive, and startup founder. He eventually left the corporate world to start a coaching practice and now lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others create their own invincible lives. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.