I make this mistake all the time.
I look at the clock after watching my fifth YouTube video of the morning. I’ve been sitting here for two hours and all I’ve managed work-wise is to open my calendar and bullet journal. I read my carefully crafted to-do list three times, yet I was still swayed by the allure of cats trying to jump over cling-wrap barriers.
I gotta be honest, my routine of late has been about as organised as a hoarders garage (packed full and no resemblance of organisation). I sit down to work and some days I don’t look up until my stomach crumbles at 2 pm because I forgot about lunch. Other days are reminiscent of the morning above — YouTube, Medium, emails, playing with the dogs — anything to get me out of work.
But, as I said in a recent post, 2020 is all about consistency for me. Which means reassembling a routine that ensures I achieve my goals each day and subsequently, this year.
The Only New Years Resolution You Need To Be Successful In 2020.
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The (assumed) easy way to improve your routine:
Is to pull out your diary, or open your calendar, and schedule everything you want to start doing again. Sounds simple, right? Except when you get to the part where you have to show up and do the work. It’s a lot like buying a training plan when you want to lose weight. If all you do is buy the training plan, you ain’t going nowhere.
So, rather than try the “put my to-do list in my calendar” option (which I tried late last year and it didn’t work, by the way), I decided to take a look back at some of the best advice I’ve taken from my mentors, and use these tips to create the setup that will most likely work for me this year.
I know some of these mentors personally. I’ve purchased their courses and paid for their mentorship. Others, I’ve followed from afar. But regardless, all of them have had an impact on my productivity. Hopefully, they can do the same for you.
Alexander Mullan: The first hour of the day is your own.
I used to have great success when I’d wake up at a set time, get dressed, wander downstairs to meditate (a.k.a. make coffee) for 5 minutes, then sit down to write. It was an unbelievable feeling having completed my writing for the day by 9 am. But, that was when someone else fed the dogs, or when I did have to feed them, they guzzled it down so fast you’d think there was nothing in their bowl to begin with.
These days, we’ve moved to a new country and our own house. Between three dogs (two of which sometimes require hand-feeding) and three cats all screaming at me for food when I wake, it’s easily half an hour before I even think about pouring coffee into my bloodstream. By the time that’s done, I’m usually starving.
So, as per a suggestion I once heard from my mentor (The Wizard of Wordcraft) Alex Mullan, I now spend the first hour of my day doing what needs to be done to take the house from frenzied as a Black Friday sale to quiet and content. Taking just one hour at the beginning of my day to sort out “life stuff” has been my key to carving out uninterrupted blocks of work time later in the day.
Leo Baubauta: “Do only what’s important to you”.
In his incredible book The Power of Less (affiliate link), Leo Babauta states:
“Instead of trying to do everything and not having enough time for the important things in your life, you do only what’s important to you.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking:
“But what about when other people want me to do things?”
You’re right, it can be tough to say no to other people. But remember, every time you say “yes” to doing something you don’t want to do, you’re saying “no” to something that truly matters to you. And the more you say “no” to your priorities, the further you walk away from achieving your goals.
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I know that’s easy to say, and I’m not suggesting you build a brick wall between you and people who place requests for your time. Instead of cutting out everything in your life, begin by asking yourself if the request is truly something you want to do. If it’s not, say “no” because you’re working (because you are working). Then as you become more comfortable prioritising what matters to you, you can say “no” to more tasks that don’t fit within your life plan. Learning to say “no” doesn’t have to be as painful as cutting off a limb. It takes time; so take the time to make it work for you.
This is just one piece life-changing of advice from Babauta. If you’d like to read more, I’d highly recommend purchasing his book here (affiliate link).
Jonathan Goodman: Live your Dream Week.
Babauta’s “do only what’s important to you” is great in theory, but it must be put into practice to improve your life. That’s where utilising Jon Goodman’s Dream Week system allowed me to stay focused on my priorities. I’ve implemented the Dream Week system since I completed Jon Goodman’s Online Trainer Academy (affiliate link) back in 2017 and I’ve been using it every since. It’s such a simple technique that can make a huge difference in your life and improve your routine.
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All you have to do is open your calendar, then plan out your dream week in detail. So you want to exercise 4 days per week, pick a time and put it in the calendar. You want to take your kid to football practice on Thursdays, schedule it in your calendar. You’re keen for date night with your wife every Friday, mark time for it too. Anything you’d want to do if you had your “dream life” has to go in that schedule. Set all the “dream week” events to recurring so you’ll see them in your calendar every week.
Then, when you’re asked to attend a meeting at 4 pm on a Thursday afternoon, ask yourself if you’re willing to give up taking your kid to football practice to attend that meeting? If not, request a reschedule or simply decline.
It’s the ultimate way of reminding you what you want to prioritise and giving you a choice between doing what you want and what others want of you every day.
Nicolas Cole: Just say no.
Nicolas Cole is one of the first people I followed when I joined Medium. His story epitomises what you can achieve if you work hard enough and maintain a constant focus on improvement. Cole regularly talks about his achievements in his Medium posts;
- Becoming one of the world’s best World of Warcraft players;
- Earning top writer status on Quora four times;
- Writing his own column on Inc. Magazine; and
- Co-founding his own content marketing agency for CEO’s.
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But this isn’t what draws me to his writing. It’s how brutally honest he is about how he got there that captures my attention.
You see, Nicolas Cole writes 10,000+ words per day. He became a top writer on Quora by writing on the platform every single day for four years. He caught the attention of editors at Inc Magazine by doing so, and then co-founded his own business upon a rock-solid foundation of consistent content creation.
The secret to getting all of this done… he said “no”. No to going out for drinks with colleagues, watching a football game, mindlessly scrolling through social media, or Netflix and chill every evening. He understood all of these things would take him away from his number one priority, which was to become a writer. Instead, he used the time to do the one thing a writer has to do — write.
Now, Cole doesn’t suggest you work 24/7 and never have a life. He places extremely high value on networking and spending time with close friends. But he sets boundaries around socialisation. If you want to improve your routine and have a successful career, you need to set boundaries too.
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Alexander Mullan: Identify your 3 High-ROI tasks.
This is the one change that took me from being an online business owner standing on the brink of burnout, to one that’s working less, feeling far more in control and most importantly, putting a lot more banknotes in my pocket each week.
The system is simple. Identify the top three things that will bring you a return on your investment of time or money, then complete those tasks day in, day out. It’s the one way that you can be confident you’re moving your business forward every day.
For example, my high-ROI tasks right now are:
- Writing (write 5 Medium posts, 2 emails and 1 blog post per week);
- Publishing (publish this content on the appropriate platforms); and
- Marketing (update my old blog posts, add Pinterest pins to all posts then share on Tailwind Tribes (Affiliate Link)).
While those tasks don’t necessarily put dollar bills in my pockets every day, they are the tasks that’ll enable me to build the business of my dreams in the long term. Focusing on three high-ROI tasks allows me to pursue long-term growth and stability, rather than short-term profit (which would be great now, but unlikely to build a solid foundation for future business growth).
Martin Norbury: “I don’t work Fridays”.
This mentor tip from Martin Norbury is self-explanatory, and it’s also the title of his non-fiction book, I don’t work Fridays (Affiliate Link). Instead, Norbury spends time with his family on Fridays. It is very rare that he will work a Friday, and if he chooses to do so, it will have to be for something extremely important. Otherwise, Friday is family time.
Now, you don’t have to make your day off Friday. Depending on my plans, I often choose Saturday, Sunday or both. But, regardless of the day I choose, I make sure I do not work. That means no writing, no checking social media, no replying to clients and definitely no social media.
A whole day off gives you time to focus on the other priorities in your life (maybe fill it with some dream week tasks).
Russell Brand: What program are you working?
In his video “The 12 steps according to Russell Brand”, he says:
“You don’t choose between working a program and not working a program. You choose between a conscious program and an unconscious program. You’re already working a program”.
If you get up every morning, make a coffee and sit on the lounge mindlessly flicking through tv channels for two hours, you have a morning routine. It’s just not productive.
If you sit down to work and check your emails, peruse social media and read the news headlines, you have a work routine. It’s just not productive.
Whereas, if you:
- Plan your morning routine to prepare you for work;
- Do only what’s important to you;
- Rule your calendar with a dream week and only stray when absolutely necessary;
- Focus on tasks that will bring a high return on your investment;
- Take a full day off once per week; and
- Say no to anything that will pull you off track;
You’re working a conscious program. That, my friend, is how you improve your routine so it will ensure you achieve your goals.
Try these 7 tips today. Or if you’d prefer, study the routines of your mentors to identify the routine improvements that resonate with you. Then implement the hell out of them until you reach the top of your mountain of success.
Are you a freelancer who’s fed up with working twice as many hours as you used to, for a quarter of the cash, and a truck-tonne of responsibility to go with it?
Babauta, L. (2009) The Power of Less. TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwell, Great Britain.
Goodman, J. (2017) The Fundamentals of Online Training. Personal Trainer Development Center.
Norbury, M. (2016) I don’t work Fridays. Rethink Press, Great Britain.