Unlock a More Productive Day

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Alright! Welcome to Unlock the Shortcut. Today we are going to unlock how to make every day a more productive day. No more excuses, no more delays. To unlock this shortcut, all it takes is five simple steps. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

1. Get a Good Head Start – Get up early so you are not pitting priorities against each other. Waking up early allows you to set the agenda. Get your work started before the madness, before demands are made on you, before your objectives have competition.

Getting up just one hour earlier can do amazing things for your performance and your productivity. And your physical health and your psychological well-being.

Part of the reason is you’re up before everyone else, so you get to do what you want to do. You can get sixty minutes of top-priority work completed before the phone rings and emails come pouring in.

Or you can do something for yourself, like read a chapter of a book you want to finish, go for a bike, walk, or run, or plan and review your goals and daily objectives.

You decide what matters most.

As for me, I like to do all three in my first hour — 20 minutes of reading, 20 minutes of planning, and then 20 minutes of exercise.

Maybe you have heard of the 5am Club. Well, that is what it looks like.

So, step one, get up early and give yourself a good head start.

2. Take a Look Back – You got yourself up an hour early and now you’re in the thick of it. You’re feeling pretty good about your productivity and you’re looking forward to what is next on your goals list.

But you know what’s more motivating than looking forward to what you’ll accomplish next?

Looking back to see all you’ve already accomplished.

Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Just ask the smart folks at Harvard. They studied high performers and they found the most successful, most productive people take time to reflect and celebrate their wins.

In fact, they found that the most persistent people spend twice as much time thinking, not about what still needs to be done, but what they’ve already accomplished.

Personally, on days I don’t feel I’m doing my best, I’ve found that taking a look back at what I have gotten done, really helps me see that I am being productive. And that is a great mood booster.

Nothing is more motivating than progress. Success fuels success.

3. Take a Break – You’ve been running hard all morning, scarfed down some lunch at your desk (again), and now it’s afternoon and you are thinking a nap would be pretty nice.

Well, if you can work that nap into your day, do it. But restrict your nap to just 20 minutes. Any more than that and you’ll go too far and wake up feeling worse than before.

And if you can’t squeeze in a nap because you don’t work at Google, and you don’t work from home, and you’re pretty sure your boss finds that kind of activity unacceptable, you’re going to need a different energizer.

Good news is you have options.

You could do like a lot of folks and down a double espresso or chug an energy drink, but you could also opt for a healthier alternative.

You know the old saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away?” Well, let’s just say that “an apple a day keeps the downtime away.”

Oof, that was pretty bad. Sorry about that.

It has been well established that a slug or two of caffeine (found in coffee and energy drinks) will definitely give you a jolt for an hour or so and then drop you like a forty-pound kettlebell.

Whereas an apple offers a balanced dose of fructose for energy, fiber for fullness, vitamin C to boost immunity, and pectin to lower cholesterol. And, more good news, it releases those sugars over the time it takes to digest, so you get a nice long energy boost with a smooth landing right around dinner time.

Now, if you don’t happen to have an apple with you, think about taking a ten-minute walk (preferably outside) and listen to a short, informative podcast.

I loooove taking naps, but let’s be serious. I’m not quite retired yet, so that taking a nap every day might be frowned upon. But that afternoon apple? Oh yeah, I love that pectin pick-me-up!

Alright. After a short break, it’s time to consider what the afternoon has in store for us.

4. Keep it Lighter Later – We all have a circadian rhythm that drives our energy and ability to focus. Most of us perform at our best before noon, while some of us are creative night owls.

No matter which part of the day we start our work, the first hours are most productive, and our performance tends to degrade over the course of the day.

For this reason, it is best to schedule critical tasks and highly detailed work as early in our day as possible. Remember that book by Brian Tracy borne out of a quote by Mark Twain? Something about eating a frog.

Well, we’re not eating any frogs here, but there is good reason to start your day with your most daunting task. It usually requires the most energy, most focus, and the most discipline. All of those are at their peak in the first hours of your workday. Seize them!

Now, once the tough stuff is accomplished and you’ve had a nice lunch and maybe a nap (or at least sat in quiet contemplation of your recent accomplishments), stack up some work that is less demanding and more routine.

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, stated this quite elegantly when he said, “At 6:00 A.M. I’m a creator, and by 2:00 P.M. I’m a copier.”

I love that quote and I’m working to get better at following that mantra. I try to do my writing in the mornings when I need my creativity and focus and then make calls and do audio edits in the afternoons, which require a little less grey matter to be successful.

So remember, do your most demanding work early in the day and save the lighter stuff for later.

5. Get to Bed Early – Of course none of these fancy tips and tricks matter much if you don’t get your beauty rest. Sleep is possibly the most important thing you can do for yourself in the way of health, performance, mindset, and relationships.

And that is because everything you do depends on how much sleep you get the night before.

Think about it like your cell phone. If you use your phone all day and don’t charge it during the day, and you don’t charge it at night, you’re going to find it the next morning with very little power. Sure, it might get you through the first hour or two, but before long, your phone’s battery will be under 10% and diminishing quickly. You’re going to have to plug it in or risk missing texts, emails, calls, and any other “work” you might do on your phone.

Same thing happens if you treat your body like your cell phone. You’ll probably be alright for the first couple of hours and then you’ll slowly, then quickly, devolve into sluggishness, moodiness, irritability, and apathy.

At that point, naps, apples, and looking back at accomplishments are not going to be enough to get you where you need to be. You need to get a good night’s sleep of 7-9 hours.

So, what’s the best way to do that? Here are three ways to help you enjoy better sleep every night.

  1. Figure out what time you need to get up and do the math to determine your bedtime. Remember, you’re looking to get 7-9 hours each night.
  2. Eat your last bite of food at least two hours before your nighttime routine begins. You want to expend energy recharging your brain, not digesting your last meal.
  3. Eliminate or ease off the booze. Alcohol disrupts your sleep and typically leads to an erratic bedtime schedule. One or maybe two glasses of beer or wine could be ok but reducing or eliminating the booze will help you keep your schedule and keep you sleeping soundly all night.

I try to do all three of these each night. I’ve found the most important and impactful step is to set a time to go to bed. I know I’m gonna sound old, but I like to get under the covers by 9:30 each night. It helps to keep everything else in line and enables me to get up at 5am the next morning. Try it out and see what works for you.

Well, that was a lot of information in a short amount of time, so let’s recap.

Get a head start by waking up an hour earlier and focus on what matter most. Then after a couple of hours, take a look back at what you’ve accomplished so far. And somewhere after lunch, when you’re feeling a bit sluggish, take a nap, eat an apple, or go for a short walk. And make sure to do the tough stuff early in the day and save the lighter stuff for later. And finally, when your workday is done, have a healthy meal and get yourself into an early bedtime routine.

I don’t know if you realize this, but we’ve just unlocked the shortcut to better health, better performance, and better time management.

So how will decide to build these healthy habits into your workday? How will you plan your extra hour each morning? And how will you set a routine of keeping your mind and body energized and motivated throughout the day?

I know this won’t be easy to implement all at once, but try one little habit and then stack another one on top of that and then another. Before long, you’ll be looking back at how far you’ve come and celebrating loads of success you’ve previously only dreamed of.

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