Don’t Worry, There’s Still Beer and Netflix
“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
― Mark Twain
I am a serial procrastinator. I always have been. Sometimes I make myself feel better about it when I read articles like this one, which mentions procrastinators being more creative, or this one which says that procrastination is one of the 11 common traits of highly intelligent people. But really, at the end of the day, laziness and procrastination have kept me from living up to my potential in many ways.
So how do I find a way to continue to go out with my friends on a Tuesday, binge Netflix after a long week, skip the gym when I’m not feeling it, and still be reasonably healthy, happy, and productive? Well, I won’t pretend I’ve got it all together, but I think a few of these strategies can show you how I’ve balanced a carefree attitude with, among other things: publishing two books of poetry, becoming a college professor, losing 30 lbs, getting engaged to a girl way out of my league, running an indie music podcast and blog, and learning 3 new instruments, all while still working my day job as a high school teacher.
1. Wake Up Early (Unless You Stayed Up Too Late; Fuck That Deal With It Tomorrow)
I would not describe myself as a morning person. Despite places like Forbes telling me how beneficial it is to wake up early, I spent my teens and 20s staying up way too late every night, playing video games, skateboarding at 2 am during college (the streets were just so empty and smooth), drinking with friends, scrolling through Reddit, binge watching TV shows I’ve already seen, drinking not with friends, and, well, you get the point. I still like to do much of this occasionally, but I try to make sure 4–5 days a week I am awake by 5:30 am.
To do this, I have a cheap automatic coffee maker that starts at 5:15 am every morning. I also have 2 alarms on my phone, one for 5:30 and one for 5:45. My goal is to get up on the first one, but I can still be productive if I don’t until the second one. All I have to do is make it to the coffee maker. Then I have a cup of coffee and 45 minutes to an hour to read, write, listen to music/a podcast, whatever I am feeling that morning to ease myself into the day. This year, my goal is to write during that period (almost) every day. What about you? Start a blog, knock out your reading list, play an instrument, exercise, whatever helps you feel like you started your day accomplishing something small is a perfect way to gain momentum for a productive day.
Now here’s the important part for all of these points. You don’t have to always do it; just pick back up the next day. For example, Halloween this past year was on a Thursday. I had to work Friday, but I still found myself drinking a borrowed Modelo at a stranger’s house at 4 am. Did I wake up at 5:30 am on that Friday? No way. I did still make it to work for my 8 am job, with 3 alarms and an extra back up plan in the form of making a coworker call me if she didn’t hear from me by 7 am (she did not, but her 3rd call did the trick). The point of that story isn’t that I’m an idiot (I am), but that it is okay to slack off sometimes, as long as you don’t let that keep you from setting your alarm for 5:30 the following day.
2. Work Out 3 Days A Week (Unless You Don’t Want To Because The Witcher Just Came Out On Netflix)
In July of 2018, I was the heaviest and most out of shape I have ever been, and I felt it in every aspect of my life. I had no energy. I didn’t feel attractive. I didn’t have any discipline to complete projects. I have always spent some time in the gym, but haven’t always had a specific vision for what program I wanted to follow, and what goals I wanted. I don’t know what fitness practice you should follow. If you are really interested, this is the one I follow, there are a million programs for you to find, and if you are only working out 3 days, you’ll want a full-body workout. This will involve 3 things: Push, Pull, Legs. Push something (bench press, overhead press, incline press, etc.), pull something (pull ups, pull downs, rows, etc.), and do legs (deadlifts, squats, cleans, etc.).
Getting into a consistent exercise routine has done wonders for my energy levels, my self-esteem, and my overall health. But just like with waking up early, it’s okay to miss a day, just don’t miss two in a row. I have missed workouts to grab drinks after work, to hurry home and watch a new show, to hang out with my fiancé, and I just made up for it next time. Who am I trying to be? The Rock? If you get bored with a work out, change it up. If you don’t want to lift weights, run, rock-climb, kayak, swim, do yoga, bike. Just find something you can stick to most of the time, and don’t let one off day derail your whole practice.
3. Eat Healthy (Or Go Get That Burrito Man, It’s So Delicious)
Another aspect of losing unwanted fat, boosting my energy levels, and just feeling better overall was getting my diet in order. For the most part, 5 days a week I eat a smoothie for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and some sort of meat and veggies for dinner. I keep it relatively simple, but if you find out you like cooking, the sky's the limit. I meal prep most of my lunches on Sunday before the week starts, so that I’m all set and not tempted to buy fast food for lunch out of laziness. Automating my life in these various ways has made it much easier to trick myself.
Another thing that has helped me a ton is getting a calorie tracker app. I set up my calorie goal based on my fitness goals, and then I log my calories every day. Do I know I’m meeting friends for wings and beer on a Saturday? Maybe I’ll skip breakfast so I come close to hitting my calorie goal, or I’ll run in the morning so I get an extra 300 calories to consume. I know there are a million diets: low fat, low carb, keto, paleo, but honestly, the easiest thing for me is just counting calories. If your calories in are less than your calories out, you lose weight. Simple.
I love wings, pizza, burritos, pasta, beer, and brunch. A few times a month, I indulge heavily on these things. The trick is limiting it to no more than 4–5 times a month, and trying to sync it up with work out days, or working out a little extra the next day. Using this method, for the most part, I’ve found I’m able to have my burrito and eat it too, while still having a relatively healthy lifestyle.
4. Get Your Financial House In Order (But Definitely Still Buy That New Guitar)
You’re probably getting used to the method now. Find a way to automate and trick yourself into accidentally being better at a part of your life you are struggling with. I grew up with pretty terrible examples of personal finance from my parents. They are great, and I love them, but they made way too much money throughout their lives to keep so little. Throughout my 20's, I found myself making the same mistakes. I still am not as frugal as I could be, but I have built in a couple of methods to help me budget, save, and pay down debt.
Budget a couple of times a year.
I don’t budget every month. I don’t even stick to it that strictly, but it is helpful to look at what you’re spending, in what category, and try to pare it down in order to meet your savings goals, or pay off debt.
Automate spending when you get paid
As soon as I get paid, I send 10% to my savings, I pay my bills (or have a lot of them set on auto-pay), and I pull out cash for my “fun budget”. Why do I pull out cash? Well, I have found that if I don’t, and I just spend with my debit card and guesstimate, the money doesn’t last the month. With the cash method, when the cash runs out, I can’t go to bars, or out to eat, or buy a new book, or buy musical equipment, etc. until next month. The good news is, I have a set amount each month where I can do those things. Don’t deprive yourself of fun, just set an automated end limit.
Set up some sort of investment account
This is a headache for like a day, and then it’s automatic. If your work has a 401(k) and matches some percentage, you HAVE to enroll. Tomorrow. You’re missing out on free money. Let them take that money out of your check before taxes, and just pretend it never existed. If your work does not have a program like that, open up a simple investment account with the company of your choosing. I have an Acorns account that automatically invests when I spend money on my debit card, and a Robinhood account where I send a little money each month and buy some stocks for fun. You can make this all very complicated if you want, but the easiest thing to do is buy an index fund (a fund that follows the stock market as a whole), and put money in it every month. Don’t take the money out when the market goes down (unless you’re about to retire). Don’t stop putting money in. Reinvest gains. And down the line, you’ll be happy you did. History tells us you’ll make approx 8–12% back on your investment over a lifetime.
I know this list kind of jumps around a bit. It’s meant to hit on the biggest things I’ve struggled with as a generally lazy guy. My girlfriend, who is very self-motivated, read this article and said she didn’t understand it. I’m betting that there are some of you like me though, that can use systems of automation to trick yourself into improving your lifestyle. I’ve always been overwhelmed when I read about Steve Jobs waking up at 4 am and being productive for 15 straight hours. That’s never going to be me, but I have found ways to be a little better version of myself, and achieve some of my goals, by focusing a little of my time on them. The most important thing to remember is: don’t deprive yourself of the things you enjoy, healthy or not, but don’t let those things keep you from working hard in short spurts to achieve whatever you’re dreaming of doing…tomorrow.